Think you know enough? Think again.

Arvon, Totleigh Barton

Totleigh Barton, almost 1000 years old

As writers, we need to be confident about our abilities and we have to be dedicated. In the early stages, there’s usually a certain amount of arrogance in play, but I think that’s a necessity if you want a writing career. Otherwise, how else would you start?

The initial focus tends to be on publication and typically you hammer out lots of work, usually way before it’s ready, and the badge of honour rejection slips start rolling in. It’s not what you expected and it’s not particularly nice, but that’s when you begin to look at your work differently.

There may be some writers out there that were immediately brilliant, but I’d say they’re definitely a minority. There may also be some who skipped the first embarrassing step mentioned above – if so, I wish I was one of them. But generally, you need to work towards this next phase, when you start to concentrate on the quality, rather than the quantity, of your writing.

Arvon garden

Need a bit of space? Just one of the quirky places for you to relax and write.

You get some things published, or secure an agent, and you expect to nail a publishing deal. But you don’t. You get some positive responses and you keep going despite the odds, pleased with your progress so far but always wondering – when will it be my turn?

Sound familiar?

This is a conversation I’ve had with plenty of writers of late. And I’ve realised that this is a difficult stage, when there’s a danger of falling into the trap of believing you know enough – or at least enough to write well – and all you need is to keep going. And going. Until you find the magic that unlocks your plot/voice/character/*insert troublesome issue here*.

Dedication and determination are certainly necessary – they’re key ingredients for success in any field – but I think there’s more to consider. I believe as writers we should be constantly open to improvement, and part of that improvement is reading, listening to and getting advice from the authors you admire and aspire to emulate. as well as talking to people who are at the same level.

I recently attended a residential Arvon writing course at Totleigh Barton, a rural  retreat near the tiny village of Sheepwash in Devon. Surrounded by farmland and stunning walks, the property is a mishmash of manor house, home, country garden and meadow. Your room is perfectly furnished – think small and contained, with enticing desks and no distractions – and the absence of Wi-Fi and phone reception adds to immediate feeling that everything is designed to make your stay comfortable yet productive.

In short, it’s a writer’s dream.

I’d read a few reviews before I arrived and expected the week to be great, but nothing could have prepared me for how great. (Isn’t it good to know that despite the fact we can look everything up online, you can still find magic?) This week was singularly the most useful investment I’ve made towards my writing and I would encourage any writer to give it a try.

Encapsulating the overall experience is really difficult. It feels almost impossible to put into words. And yet, the impact it has had on my writing is so great, I feel it would be a disservice not to, so I’ll give it a go…

Arvon, Devon

Where lots of the magic happens – eating, writing, workshops… sneaky midnight feasts

Imagine a week’s full board stay in a house that’s almost one thousand years old, in the company of 15 other people who are all as passionate about and committed to writing as you.

Now, take that image and add two truly incredible writers – in this instance, Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess – with each willing to spend their week sharing their knowledge and experience in both group and one-to-one settings.

And for good measure, throw in a visit from Meg Rosoff.

Can you picture it? If so, you’re starting to get an idea of what to expect from an Arvon course.

The description above is certainly impressive, but it’s not the name-dropping that stays with you, (though of course, you can’t help it) it’s the relationships you build and the light bulbs that go off as the week progresses.

Malorie and Melvin were warm, funny, approachable and friendly throughout, and their completely different styles provided the perfect environment for us to learn and improve. The workshops and tutorials were seamless, each complementing the last and adding another layer to our ideas of how to write and how to write well.

Rural Arvon course

There are plenty of beautiful walks to help you digest all that excellent advice (and the wonderful food)

The standard of the group was really high and it was amazing meeting all these new people – each with completely different backgrounds, experiences and stories to tell – under the common denominator of writing for children and young adults. You cook, write, walk, chat, eat, and drink together. You share your work and your worries, your successes and your hopes and the camaraderie builds.

Out of this grows a real sense of team spirit, which counteracts all those lonely hours of typing, and somehow verifies what you do and why you do it, without a contract or rejection letter in sight.

I could impart some of the knowledge shared by Malorie and Melvin, but I don’t think it would be fair because I wouldn’t do it justice. You need to hear it direct from them, because they’re the ones successfully living and breathing life into books day in and day out. They’re the ones that will inspire new generations of writers, just like they’ve inspired several new generations of readers.

Totleigh Barton and the wonderful people I met there reminded me why I’m doing this. I really did experience some hallelujah moments when certain aspects fell into place (thank you, Malorie and Melvin), but even more importantly, I fell completely in love with writing all over again when I didn’t even realise I needed to.

And that’s something that just going and going will never do.

(For more detail, you can read a really good, in-depth review of the week here, written by fellow attendee and writer, Sarah Ann Juckes)

Innovation & Quality: Writing for Children with WritersWebTV

online writing workshops

The brains behind the operation…

I recently watched the inaugural live online writing workshop ‘Finding the magic: Writing for Children’ – an innovative world first from WritersWebTV, presented by Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie.

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve had lots of wonderful experiences linked to Vanessaincluding finding my agent (Sallyanne Sweeney), the place I now call home and as a result, my husband! – so I was pretty certain that it would be a quality affair.

Although it’s not usually easy, I was willing to write off a day of writing to immerse myself in advice from talented authors and industry professionals. The list was impressive, with the likes of Michael Emberley, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, Norton Vergien, Oisin McGann and Meg Rosoff on hand to share their knowledge of the industry and writing tips, answer questions and set short writing tasks.

online writing workshops

Attend the workshop from anywhere in the world? A great idea!

Even though some parts of the workshop weren’t relevant to me – I already have an agent, for instance – I dipped in and out, garnering bits of knowledge that made me stop, think and at times, rethink my own approach. I also found myself enjoying snippets of advice that I could relate to, stuff that left me nodding and smile knowingly.

The set up was impressive and multi-faceted, featuring the host Vanessa, an in-house audience and an interactive online global audience with a two-way communication stream via twitter, facebook and email. Despite the fact that the workshop was online, it maintained an inclusive and personal feel and I feel the positive feedback they’re receiving is well deserved.

Covering everything from animation to publishing, illustration to collaboration, finding an agent to finding your voice, this was something I had never experienced before and didn’t really believe could actually be done – at least, not to this standard.

I don’t want to spoil it for you – those of you who missed it and are serious about your writing career can buy it online & watch it for yourself – but here are a few of my favourite bits I’d like to share, to give you a taster…

  • The sign of good writing is to take a feeling and put it down on paper convincingly – being able to create suspense is important and make sure it’s not boring for the child.” Michael Emberley
  • Write, rework, return to your work – time lapse enables mistakes to jump out at you. It took me 14 years to write one of my books and get it right – it was turned down by same publisher 3 times, and taken on the fourth occasion. Not rushing is vitally important.” Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
  • A good agent will understand the market, will know gaps in a publisher’s list and have good contacts within the publishing industry. They’ll also help you work on your book, matching your script to the right editor. If you’re lucky enough to get an agent, it’s important you feel the agent understands your book – they have your vision.” Polly Nolan
  • You don’t need a lot of description but you do need the right words – but trust in your reader and leave some things to their imagination. What you leave out as important as what you leave in.” Meg Rosoff
using social media for writing

Social Media: providing a two-way stream during the workshop

This is just a taste of what was on offer, but if you can imagine an entire day – from 10am till 4pm – of such gems, with the chance to interact via twitter, facebook and email and have your questions answered by industry professionals, then you’ll understand why I’m highly recommending the next few workshops.

  • Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction Tuesday, October 15th
  • Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction Wednesday, October 30th
  • Getting Published Saturday, November 9th

I’d love to know who else tuned in to the first workshop and what you thought of it. And who’s tuning in next time? Even if you don’t write in those genres, you may pick up something useful as the information is always transferable and as writers, we can always improve.

Short stories – is there a winning formula?

In the world of publishing, there’s not much demand for short stories. Why? Because short story collections don’t sell as well as novels. Yet certain countries – including Ireland, America and Canada – have short stories in their blood, their cultural identity and still have a healthy attitude towards the art form.

Mary Costello's excellent collectionIn recent years, there have been incredible collections from writers such as Mary Costello, Kevin Barry, Deborah Willis, Alexander McCleod and David Constantine (a limited list but just a sample). There are some excellent short story competitions out there, like the Bridport Prize, Fish Prize, Francis MacManus and Seán Ó Faoláin to name but a few. Then there’s the excellent Cork International Short Story Festival, where the genre is celebrated.

It’s great to know that the short story is not a dying breed, but how do you go about writing a damn good short story?

Personally, I struggle with short stories. I find them at once infuriating, enticing, frustrating – in other words, they’re challenging. But what writer doesn’t like a challenge?

Recently, I was shortlisted for a noteworthy competition in Ireland and this meant I got to hear my story read out on radio by an actor. Of course, I was excited by the result, but I didn’t realise what an impact the overall experience would have.

Hearing the recording provided me with distance from my story so I could listen to it with fresh ears, rather than as something I’d written. I could also hear how someone else might read/approach/interpret it through the intonation in the actor’s voice. I always read my own writing out loud to spot errors and weak sentences, but it was completely different listening to a stranger read your words.

Most importantly, the overall experience also did something else: it made me raise the bar. I realised (without reluctance) that the next few entries I’d prepared for submission weren’t up to scratch. They needed time to mature. They still do.

This is a steep learning curve in the early stages of writing. I’ve come across many enthusiastic new writers complaining about the ever-decreasing ‘competition fund’ and lack of results. They worry that their work isn’t being read/understood/given enough of a chance. When in fact, the work probably just isn’t ready yet.

I’m not belittling their concerns or their work; indeed, I was one of those people a few years back. But something changed. It’s called writing maturity.

After several rejections, a smattering of near misses and a growing pile of longlists and shortlists (but never a win), you find your impatience simmers down, your arrogance bows its head and you start to focus on what really matters. Quality not quantity.

You worry less about the amount and frequency of competitions you enter and concentrate instead on getting it right. After a while, you realise that submitting one, really really good story in a year and having it recognised by the judges is far better than bashing out ten mediocre attempts that wouldn’t make it past the preliminary stages.

You may have a beautiful worded story but is it gripping enough? The opening might be a corker, but does the end deliver? Is the piece wordy just for the sake of it? Or does your favourite character (because it’s secretly revenge against that irritating neighbour/aunty/teacher that told you you’d never write) let the narrative down?

Writing, like anything else, needs time to develop, mature and improve. And this will never stop. You can always learn something new, try a different style, be more focused or more productive. But as your writing career develops, you begin to see your way more clearly. You can eke out troublesome characters, plot blips and unconvincing dialogue. Even if you can’t manhandle the meddlesome toads into something worthy, then you can at least spot them in time (before you send your work for submission and increase the risk of hitting the rejection pile).

So is there a winning formula for writing the perfect short story? I don’t think so. You just need to read lots of excellent examples and let them teach you. Then you have to write the very best short story that you can.Then try and write it better again.

And if it isn’t the very best it can be in time for the competition/submission deadline you had your eye on, impatience won’t get you anywhere. There’s always another year or another competition around the corner.

You’re not alone

You’ll find that writers are a very supportive bunch on the whole. They understand the pros and cons, highs and lows (admit it, there are lows) that writing involves and they are always willing to help – whether it’s reading through a piece you’re ready to submit, cheering you on when you’ve achieved something you’re proud of, giving tips on writing technique, or giving you a nod at the right times when you’re having doubts.

This can be in person, via email, twitter or Facebook, a text message or a phone call. You might find a revelation in an article, book, blog post, TV documentary or piece of journalism. The source isn’t really important. The point is, you are not alone. Help and support is out there. 

Usually, writers offer their support without question or judgement – just ask and see! – but sometimes, useful advice is given at just the right moment, by mistake. Such an incident inspires this week’s blog post, thanks to Susan Lanigan.

Shrimp pot in the Atlantic

Don’t let fear or doubt pull you in the wrong direction

Last week, Susan posted On Luck and Writing. She opened the post with – “Yesterday, I had a moment of uncertainty about my writing. The usual questioning and fear and stuff. To distract myself I picked up a book that did not belong to me and which I would never normally read…”

This resonated in two ways. Firstly, my mindset at the end of last week matched Susan’s exactly. Secondly, I too needed distraction, and On Luck and Writing proved the perfect tonic.

Usually, I’m all about staying focused but the more I write, the more I value those snippets of free time that you can salvage for research, reading about other writers and winding down. I’m still not great at it, but I’m improving.

Last week, my mindset was simply a product of over work and then stressing about not working enough which in turn generated negative feelings towards my output. Rather than remembering to enjoy the process, without too much inner reflection and criticism, I got caught up in over-analysing results and steaming towards unnecessarily ambitious, self-imposed deadlines.

I know, foolish. But what can I say? I’m only human. I think we can all fall into that trap on occasion. The important thing is that we realise it and rein ourselves in.

Like Susan’s post highlighted, we have a tendency to over-think things and allows ourselves to contemplate failure before we’ve even given things a fair try, flitting from one thing to another trying to find ‘the right answer’ instead of trusting our instincts and continuing on, unshackled.

Personally, I enjoy working on different projects – e.g. poetry, haiku, themed submissions, different word counts for stories – to hone my skills and keep things interesting. But when it comes to my novels, I have to trust my instinct and write what I want to write, what I can write well. It’s usually pretty easy, but sometimes, I need a post like Susan’s to remind me that that’s exactly what I’m doing and it’s the right choice to make.

Many people ask editors and publishers – ‘what are you looking for?’ – as though there is a magic ingredient that will ensure your book/s will be published. The truth is, even though publishers have gaps to fill, there is no such magic ingredient. What they want is a damn good story.

Sometimes your book will be rejected because it’s got a way to go, and it’s an almost damn good story with potential. In this case, listen to the advice you’re given, treasure it and use it to feed into your next draft. Sometimes, your book will be well written but the story isn’t quite damn good enough. Again, listen and act accordingly.

On other occasions, you’ve got a damn good story and it’s really well written, but it doesn’t fit a publisher’s list right now. Or any publisher’s list. That doesn’t mean that it never will, but neither does it mean – ‘quick, write a crime novel because they’re selling well’, or ‘switch to Young Adult, there’s a great market for it’.

Stay calm and carry on writing what you write in the way that you write it. All the while, you will be honing your writing skills, stimulating your imagination and writing more books. If you really want to be a writer, write. No matter what your inner critic says. You cannot let the inner critic hold you back or send you in the wrong direction.

In the words of Susan, “Hunt for what you want. Don’t be a prey animal. Be a predator.”

Great advice.

Squawking seagulls on the Atlantic

Silence the inner critic!

As you go into a new week, put any silent doubts, fears, anxieties or uncertainty about your writing behind you. You are a writer. So write. It’s that simple. Who cares if you have to wait longer for that elusive publishing deal or literary journal to accept your work? Stay on track, be dedicated to your craft and it will come.

I’d like to end with a huge thanks to Susan for being there at the right time, giving much-needed advice, without even realising.

Who has inspired/helped you over the last week? Share it with us – you never know who might need to be listening.

Make the most of your writing time

funny sleepy puppy

Franklyn has mastered the art of maximising his time

I was going to call this post ‘make your writing time last longer’ but I reconsidered, deciding that it was probably an outlandish claim seeing as most people juggle jobs, families, and generally hectic lives, as well as their writing.

Not everyone can stretch their time to incorporate more focused writing, but we can all make the most of the time we have available to generate ideas, edit current work and generally further our projects. (This applies to non writers too – as you read on, replace the writing references with whatever hobby/work tasks are relevant to you.)

Here are a few tactics that I rely on to get the most out of my day and maximise its potential.

Exercise first thing. I find this stimulates the body and mind and unclutters your brain. How long does it honestly take you to get going in a morning? Why not use that time to get the oxygen flowing round your body and benefit from the feel-good factor of having a great start to the day?

Many people choose to exercise with a friend because they find it motivating, but I recommend going alone if you can. You’l find your mind fresh and alert, rather than bogged down with gossip/problems – and it’s much easier to get started right away on your projects when you’re done exercising.

Choose wisely. Some writers leave their work with a sentence unfinished, so they’re itching to get started the next day. Personally, I like tasks to be ‘completed’ (read – finished to the best of my ability in that session) before stopping. If you know you only have fifteen minutes to write, and that that’s how long it takes you to get into your character’s mind to work on your current chapter, for instance, don’t set yourself up for failure. You’ll only feel irritated and short-changed when you have to stop. Choose something else that will move you forward.

For instance, is there a character’s name that doesn’t sit right? Research alternatives and mindmap ideas. Is your title not quite working? Play with that. How about redrafting a paragraph of a short story that’s been niggling at you? Maybe there’s a themed submission you’ve got your eye on but haven’t come up with anything yet? It’s time to play with ideas! As writers, the task we choose is vital to our sense of achievement.

sleep kittens cuddling up

As you can see, my cats also follow my advice.

Switch tasks. If you swap between tasks, you can honestly write for longer. It’s a great way of maximising your time. I find that by the time I’ve edited two chapters, my mind is straying from the task in hand and any subsequent chapter editing isn’t as focused. In other words, I need to walk away until the next day. However, I don’t need to walk away fro writing completely.

If I switch to a short story, or a piece of flash fiction, or even my next blog post, I work completely refreshed. I find, however, that trying to plan too rigidly can get stressful because you feel like you can never do enough. Write a list of the writing goals you want to achieve that week, with your main WIP prioritised. Once you’ve achieved your main goal, work through the secondary list one by one. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.

Notebooks & other devices. All writers talk about the ingenious notebook – that magical place where we can jot down overheard snippets of conversation, plot ideas, observations and interesting facts that may be useful later. But they’re not that ingenious if they’re sat on the desk at home, unopened. Get used to carrying your notebooks around – make it a habit, like picking up your keys or driving glasses.

If you prefer technology, or a multi-sensory approach, use an app on your phone like Evernote to record ideas and inspiration. I love Evernote because you can take snaps, record your thoughts via audio and make notes – all in the same spot. And if you sync them online, you can access them at any time from any computer. Genius, hey? There are various diary and note taking apps available – try some free downloads until you find one that you enjoy using. Then you have yet another handy tool for collecting ideas.

Create time. Ask anyone about their day, and they’re busy. Almost too busy to tell you about their day. You don’t get many people saying – well, I read a paper, walked the dog, then sat staring out of the window, enjoying the view for a few hours. We’re all busy all of the time, but look at how you’re spending your day and ask yourself – am I spending my time wisely?

People with incredible lives make them incredible. They make choices that give themselves more time to do the things they want to do. Are there things you could do smarter? For instance, could you combine tasks, such as walking the dog to buy your groceries? Do you really need to sit chatting during your lunch break, or could you fit in an extra half hour of writing? Even twice a week? Is it really necessary to spend that much time on Twitter? Which leads us perfectly to…

Internet off. Not forever, but while you’re writing. When you’re writing, that should be your sole focus. Otherwise, you’re in your world, not your character’s – and how is that going to be believable to your reader?

Then there’s the distraction of checking emails, chatting about your writing on twitter (otherwise known as procrastinating), sticking up some inspirational pictures on Pinterest – ooh, and then I wonder how THAT writer’s getting on over on Facebook. We’ve all done it. But there’s nothing that can’t wait until you’ve achieved that day’s goals. So while we’re at it…

franklyn puppy with toy collection

Internet, phones, TV off. No distraction here! I’m 100% focused.

Phones off. Voicemail is the answer. We’re used to being completely contactable 100% of the time, but is it necessary? When police are patrolling the streets, they can’t use their mobiles – and their nearest and dearest wouldn’t even consider trying to call them while on duty. Likewise for librarians, schoolteachers, shop assistants and anyone else when they’re working. And so be it for writers. Only you have to make it clear – and stick by it.

No TV. I know this isn’t ideal for everyone but if you don’t switch the TV on, you’re not distracted. If you don’t have a TV, there’s no ‘switching it on for background noise’ then ‘accidentally watching’. When people go on holiday, they’re amazed at how much they fit in. Often, it’s because they’re not sat watching TV for a section of their day.

That’s not to say TV is a bad thing, but if you want to maximise your time it’s a no go area – at least while you’re writing. A less drastic alternative (and a nicer compromise) is to set a writing task that you have to finish before you switch the TV on. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Wait. This is the one that many find hardest of all – especially in the early stages of a writing career – but waiting is actually beneficial. Letting your writing sit for a while before redrafting works wonders. Flaws are easier to spot, tongue-tied sentences stick out and if the idea hadn’t quite blossomed enough, the gaps are easier to identify. In short, the quality of work you produce is often much higher than if you tried to redraft it day after day for a week. If you don’t already wait, try it and see.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on these matters, but these things work for me and I hope they work for you too. If you have any other tips on making writing time more effective, please let me know! I’m always looking for ways to keep the day productive, stress-free and enjoyable – while making the most of my writing time – so all suggestions are welcome!

How will you make the most of your writing time today?

Anyone need a writing prompt?

Australia, Blue Mountains

I remember sun. I think I quite liked it!

I’m back! I’ve reached the finish line and my book is now with my agent – phew! I’ve also managed to squeeze in a few writing competitions along the way.

Luckily, just like the lovely Hazel Gaynor, I’m brimming with new ideas. But I realise that isn’t always the case…Which is partly why I write the Wordspark blog for writing.ie

If you haven’t yet heard of writing.ie, it’s a wonderful site set up by Vanessa O’Loughlin for writers at all stages of their career. Although Ireland-based, it’s suitable for writers anywhere in the world. If you haven’t already, take a peek. There’s so much info on there from some of the world’s top best-selling authors, it’s an invaluable resource.

But back to ideas for your writing…

The idea behind Wordspark is to get creativity flowing. The prompts can be used to fire up the imagination as a pre-writing/editing exercise or to spark off a piece that can be sculpted into a competition or journal submission further down the line.

It’s a little extra help, when needed.

Here are a few of the #wordsparks already posted – take your pick and join in!

Description – ten words describing the sea

Postcard Prompts x3 – Trains, Art and Balloon Sellers

Rhyming Couplet – using a photo as inspiration.

There’ll be plenty more coming. If you find them useful, stay tuned!

From Script to Screen: A Masterclass with Jack Gold

Ever wondered how you take a short story and turn it into a film?

Although I don’t write for screen, I write short stories, and the idea of watching the next step in any creative process intrigues me.

Luckily, I had the chance to attend this outstanding, fully interactive workshop with British film director Jack Gold – and I thought it only fair that I should share some of the key elements for all the short story writers, film makers and film watchers out there.

Jack calling the shots (literally)

The story: Dusky Ruth by A E Coppard

The setting: a church hall, with a crowd of 200+

Equipment: Jack Gold, two local actors (one male, one female), a pipe, a camera man & camera, a stage hand, 2 chairs, 1 entrance door, a lighting technician

The process: The audience was given a printout of the story beforehand to familiarise themselves with the tale. Then, after Jack’s short introduction, it was straight to work.

The section that Jack chose to demonstrate the filmmaking process with (when the man returns to the room and the woman doesn’t respond) over the course of the next four hours was purposely dialogue-free. Encouraging audience participation from the start, Jack asked:

If you don’t have dialogue, how do you get inside the heads of the people watching?

The audience concluded that expression, lighting and mood were the key elements. But what we couldn’t figure out was what made it work. As a writer, I should have realised that editing was the key. Jack explained:

Filming a piece like this is a jigsaw. You film the links in the chain – both big links and tiny links – and then join that chain. Editing is fundamental to storytelling, in whatever medium you’re telling the story.

He went on to discuss and identify the ‘hingepoint’ of the piece – where the action takes off in a different direction – and then demonstrated the critical thinking required of any film maker. The first problem posed:

Where do we place the chairs so that the character can do all the things required of him in a way that’s beneficial to the audience through the camera?

This was much more difficult than you may think; every time we thought we had it covered, we’d realise that there was an action or a response that didn’t fit.

Once the positioning of the props was correct, Jack went on to direct the actors on the spot, questioning the audience throughout and spending the required amount of time to get each action and shot exactly right. Similar to writing a story, the number of takes or ‘redrafts’ was astounding – the pace, mood, position, action, expressions all had to be perfect, along with the camera angles and lighting. Even some of the tiny links – such as the actor pausing in a doorway – had to be shot a total of twenty one times before the take was right.

As well as considerations for plot and action, Jack also talked us through camera tricks (such as contrazoom) and film making techniques that would enhance the film’s overall impact, enabling the film to capture the essence of the written original.

How can we emphasise the strange yet sensual moment when the stranger approaches the seated woman he’s never spoken to, who hasn’t acknowledged him, and undoes her hair clasp?

The conclusion: physical space and pace, physical speed and subtle gestures which are magnified on camera if you zoom in.

One of the most intriguing things highlighted in the session was the treatment of the female character. She didn’t move at any point during the scene. Her sole role was to gaze into (an imaginary) fire without looking up or changing expression. However, as a parallel to silent characters in fiction writing, her presence was of high importance throughout. Her internal dialogue was indicated by lighting, camera movement and zooms and the reaction of the male character, rather than any actual response of her own. As Jack demonstrated, a fast pace and lots of action isn’t always necessary.

You can have all the rhythm in the world, but if you’re not telling the story, there’s no impact, there’s nothing to watch.”

After acting out and shooting the jigsaw pieces, Jack then adjourned the session to put together the pieces so he could demonstrate the editing process. During this session, the audience were shown how certain sections were cut, joined, overlapped, altered and finalised. Of course, this was just a taster. To create a polished full length short film in a few hours would be impossible.

In Jack’s own words; “The first assembly part alone could take months. Every piece has to be exact. Film making is like storytelling; it takes so long because it’s a ceaseless search for perfection.

It may have been just a glimpse of what’s needed to turn a story into a film, but there was certainly lots of information to take in and take away – most of which applied to storytelling in general, not just on film.

Some of Jack Gold’s tips:

  • A director, like a storyteller, needs an eye for detail and to be able to see all elements at once with an overall idea of what is needed from the very beginning.
  • If you’re transforming from script to screen, optical effects replace descriptions – so ignore necessary details from the story.
  • The adjustment of the camera should work with the actor, enhancing interaction, mood and pace.
  • The order you put each shot is the essence of storytelling, the essence of film.
  • Sometimes, what the audience expects next is not what you give them.

Please note: This is just a taster of the four hour session. I’ve transcribed the actual event so if you are working on a project like this and would find more information useful, please let me know.

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 4)

Would you think the same sat here?

This week, in the final installment of my writers’ toolbox posts, I’m looking at how our general environment can help to build ideas, improve our current works in progress and give us the energy to keep going. 

  • Exercise – fresh air, heart rate pumping and a good stretch create a feel-good factor that generates more ideas & better state of mind. If you take your workouts outside, you never know what you might see; it could trigger an idea or iron out a kink in your WIP.
  • Conversation – being nosey is a great asset for a writer. You overhear amazing snippets of information and quirky detail; often in the form of fleeting mentions which you never hear the end of, so you can create your own.
  • Found items – Picking up stray items – e.g. a plastic horse discarded in a bush, a stone from a beach, a badge found on the pavement – can inspire new ideas or trigger a character trait for your WIP. If you’re a neat freak (like me) then store all these items in a box & stow away until needed. You can build a story around the item or use it to inject something into something you’re currently working on.
  • Local history – listen to/research accounts of the people who lived in the area, as well as strange events, traditions and hearsay. There’s a mountain of material there and it’ll be fun to research.
  • Ideas board – collect all your jottings on receipts, cut outs from newspapers/magazines, inspiring postcards/photos and plaster your board with them. Get other people to stick things on there too. Pull items out when a themed deadline comes up or an open submission has you stumped; this is also good just for writing exercises to get your brain geared up for the day. After all, not everything you write is going to be completed. Some ideas just have to be scrapped, seen as a learning curve.
  • Other hobbies/downtime – as I was discussing recently with @katyod, it’s taken me a long time to realise that down time is just as important as scheduled writing. Anything that helps you switch off so your brain can recuperate, preventing implosion, should be seen as useful, rather than as a waste of time. Painting, gardening, sport, dancing, jigsaws, litter picking, fishing – it doesn’t matter what it is that you enjoy doing, so long as you make time to do it!
  • Do things differentlychange your routine or try something new to get in the head of a character of trigger different thoughts processes.  Schedule a day every now and again when you say yes to all new experiences – routine is useful, but breaking it can also have positive effects.

What writing techniques/tricks do you employ to stay inspired and energised?

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 3)

Step away from the computer...

This week, I’m continuing the idea of building a writers’ toolbox, but I’m now going retro and taking it offline; starting with a few select books and magazines. There are lots of books about writing to choose from and many are informative or useful. But these are my particular tried & tested favourites; the ones that I return to. Please add more of your own favourites below…

  • Story by Robert McKee – Even though it’s about scripts, it works perfectly for fiction.
  • Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – Some sound advice for children’s writing, as well as a beautifully designed book.
  • Writing Magazine – includes the excellent Writers News as well as subscriber-only competitions: perfect for beginners or writers wanting to keep an eye on the submissions market  (@writingmagazine)
  • Mslexia – even though I usually shy away from gender-specific magazines, this magazine does offer great articles and features and clear submission guidelines (@mslexia). Plus, their Women’s Novel competition winner just got scooped by Harper Collins for a 6-figure sum!
  • Mortification: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame recommended to me by @STomaselli, a book that makes you cringe & smile in equal measure, especially if you’re battling to sign on the dotted line.

Do you know of any more good books on writing? Please add in the comments below: if there’s enough, I’ll collect and create a new post.

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 2)

You'd never fish without a line

This week, I’m continuing the idea of building a writers’ toolbox, looking at some really useful and/or inspiring websites. Please add more of your favourites below…

Informative Websites

  • The literary hub of Ireland: www.writing.ie is essential for writing tips, news, competitions, articles, events coverage
  • Thresholds – home of the international short story forum full of submission and competition info (thanks to @averillB for pointing this one out)
  • Bookmunch – as writers we’re also avid readers – but it’s not always easy to select what to read. This corker of a book review site is full of ‘acerbic, pithy and/or witless book stuff’ – a really useful guide
  • The Short Review – the best place for reviews of short fiction collections – new and old.

Inspiring websites

  • Creative Writing Prompts – It sure is ugly, but hover over a number, read the prompt, go write! Useful for the morning pages or to inspire a new submission when you’re short of ideas. You can also find more ideas in the weekly write section of the Scottish Book Trust website.
  • www.triberr.com while I’m still getting to grips with it, this is a fun place to network, meet some cool people and get more coverage for your blog posts (as well as going to bonfires and earning bones…check it out to see what I’m talking about)
  • Prefer visual prompts? Try this Easy Street blog for ideas, or be get fresh ideas from Jason Lee (particularly good for characters & mood) or Gerry Chaney (think settings & space). Then, of course, there’s always National Geographic.
  • Authonomy – created by HarperCollins, a great community place to hang out, share ideas, get tips etc

Don’t forget to add your own favourites…