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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Celebrate the small stuff

2016 has started quietly for me with little news on submissions. Sometimes this is the hardest part of writing, the long periods of radio silence without any feedback. Rejections are tough, but at least they're a sign that someone out there read your work - they sort of validate your existence as a writer. I'm trying to ignore the booming silence and immerse myself in a new project, writing my next novel - the first is out there in submission land with literary agents. Like my writing buddy Wendy I've realised I can't just sit back and wait on feedback, I had to start writing the next one.

During these quiet times I sometimes have a quick flick through my clippings folder. This is where I stuff all acceptance emails, printouts from shortlists and any other successes. As you can see after almost 6 years of writing it's pretty full - time to start a new folder. That has to be something to celebrate!

And now I have something to add to the new folder ... after recently hearing that my short story Ancient Wing has been selected for the next RATTLE TALES event on 11 February (Live short stories and flash fiction at The Brunswick pub, Hove, full details here). I will be reading the story so I'd better get practising.

Monday, 18 January 2016

The best diet you'll ever read

We woke to a smattering of snow yesterday morning so stayed in a bed a little longer to read. Handsome Hubby is reading The Organized Brain by Daniel J. Levitin (he likes his reading light and fluffy!) and shared these wonderful snippets from the book:
  • 1 hour of daydreaming uses 11 calories
  • 1 hour of reading uses 45 calories
  • 1 hour attending an academic lecture uses 64 calories (though I slept through most of mine)
Wow! Makes you wonder how many calories 1 hour of writing burns up? In the name of research I noted the number of pages I could read in 1 hour: 45. That's 1 calorie per page. Now I think publishers and bookshops are missing a trick here. Why don't they put helpful stickers on books showing the calorie usage? This could help to sell the bigger books i.e. Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall at 650 pages would burn up 650 calories - more if you read faster than me.

I also calculated I needed to read for 5 solid hours to burn off the consumption of this plateful of Co-op brownie bites. Actually, yesterday I made have achieved that ...

Here's another fact from hubby's fascinating book: the only cells in a woman's body that are fuelled solely by glucose are brain cells. Interestingly, for men it's brain cells and cells of the testes that need only glucose for energy ... I'm not making any comment here merely repeating the facts ...

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

2016: Beyond the comfort zone

Always feels good to get off the blocks at the start of a new year, the writing blocks that is. Last week I wrote a new short story (3,000 words), a contemporary ghost story. It was a theme chosen for the first workshop group meeting of 2016 and I had a lot of fun writing it. Took me out of my comfort zone as I rarely write ghost stories. This got me thinking about what I want to achieve in 2016 with writing goals and all that ... I need to move out of my comfort zone, which is writing short stories, and ... well you read the list further down this post.

Setting the goals has to be done as a joint effort with writer Wendy Clarke, we met at our favourite tearooms (spookily discovering that we'd met to set 2015 goals on exactly the same date a year
before) and got stuck into the task (and teacakes of course - they're obligatory). You can read Wendy's 2016 targets here.

Before defining new goals it's essential to assess how you did on the previous ones. These were my aims for 2015 ... with outcomes.
1. Finish and submit dissertation for MA. YES! Submitted with a week to spare.
2. Identify a list of Literary Agents I would like to work with. YES. And still working on it...
3. Complete editing/polishing of novel and begin submission to identified agents. YES.
4. >50 short stories published (currently at 43). NOT QUITE - 48 end of 2015 (lesson learned, and I can hear Joanna Campbell nagging - don't set goals that you have no control over!)

And this is what I hope/want/ache to achieve in 2016 ...

1. Strive to do whatever I can to find an agent i.e. get the first novel out into submission land.
2. Complete first draft of second novel by end of the year.
3. Write at least one new radio drama.
4. Attend York Festival of Writing (September).

I have lots of other things I want to get underway in 2016, but these are the headlines as it were.
Goal 1. is in progress with Operation Agent and I bet Wendy that whoever finds an agent first buys the other a slap-up lunch. Okay, I know I'm fairly safe on that one - I've just read her novel and loved it.

Have you set any writing new goals for 2016? Please share ...

Monday, 4 January 2016

The life history of a short story

You can read my short story Through the Arched Window in January's issue (no. 171) of Writers' Forum magazine, as it came 2nd in the monthly competition. This was a big TICK for me as I've been shortlisted 4 times before and kept submitting - tenacity paid off with this placement (and a cheque for £150!). But this was no fluke ... this story has a history and I want to share this to highlight the importance of: editing (and re-writing), listening to feedback and not giving up on a story you believe in. Fetch yourself a cup of tea and settle down to read the history of a short story ...
Throughout all its drafts Through the Arched Window has kept the same title. The inspiration for the story comes from my obsession with arched windows, which is odd as we don't have any in our house, and fond memories of watching Playschool with my mum when little (more on this later). In my short story notebook where I catalogue everything I submit this story is numbered 25 out of 121. This immediately gives away its age - it was originally written in June 2011 and one of the first stories I ever submitted to the Bridport competition (it didn't do anything and to date none of my stories have made the shortlist ... sigh).
It's second outing was more successful, a finalist in The New Writer's short story prize (March 2012). Being named in dispatches showed me this could be a good story so I continued submitting to various competitions. Various edits and tweaks were made to the story between each outing but I never significantly changed the overall storyline.
Move on four years and after a serious edit the story made the long list of the 2015 Exeter Writers' Short Story Prize. This was another good sign that I was on the right track with the piece. Disappointingly, it didn't go any higher and I was stumped as what else I could do with it.
Back in 2015 I blogged about the power of workshops and living up to my words I ran this story past my writing gang (Bea, Richard and Zoe - they know who they are). They all seemed to love it, but each had pertinent comments on the narrative which had to be addressed. They all felt the same about one aspect too. Within the story I referenced, several times, Playschool a children's TV show from the 70s. Even mentioned Hamble, Big Ted et al and 'going through' the storytelling windows ie. the round/square/arched windows. (Hands up if you remember any of this.) They all remembered the show (despite the range in ages within our little group) but suggested this may not be true for all readers and I could confuse or, worse, alienate others with these details. I always listen to my workshop mates - because they are all very talented writers - and took out the references to the TV show. However, I did keep the title and the motif of the arched window running through the story - it still made sense within the context of the plot and for those who did remember the show it would perhaps add an extra layer of resonance.
The narrative did still need pruning, I softened the main character, Helena, and cut down her list of names - all suggestions from my workshop group. However, the overall plotline has changed little from that first draft of June 2011. The ninth time I submitted this story was to Writers' Forum and ... well, you know the rest. What I've learned from this is: you can never stop editing and improving a piece, listen to feedback from writers you trust and ... DON'T GIVE UP- a good story will always find a good home.
Have you had success with a short story or piece of writing that you weren't prepared to give up on? Please share - we love to hear your writing stories too!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Merry Christmas and all that

As you can see LitPig is all set for the festive holidays. Best wishes to all our lovely followers for a very Merry Christmas. Normal service will resume once I can get the remote back ...

Monday, 14 December 2015

Anyone for a drabble?

Did you know a story containing exactly 100 words is called a drabble? Did you also know you can win £2000 by writing a drabble for the Reader's Digest 100-word-story competition? This is a popular annual competition with no entry fee. £2000 to the adult winner, along with 2 x £200 prizes to the runner-ups. It closes on 20 February 2016 and full details are here. Once a shortlist is selected there is a public vote, which is not to everyone's tastes. Another drawback is that you hand over copyright to Reader's Digest if your story does well. However, they often publish stories not shortlisted so basically be prepared to lose your copyright - if this bothers you then don't enter. Personally, I'm happy to risk losing copyright on 100 words for the chance to win £2000.

Top tip: create a grid of 10 x 10 squares and write a word in each to reach the maximum. I try to avoid any hyphenated words as never entirely sure how these are counted. Title is optional and not included in the 100 words.

I know other writers have blogged about this competition - so why mention it again? Everyone believes this sort of competition is impossible to win ... OK, I've never won it but in 2013 I was one of two runner-ups out of >2000 entries. My 100 words netted me £100 in book tokens, which didn't last long! Unfortunately, I can no longer find any links to the story - sorry.  I wrote it in my head whilst swimming. Jotted it down when I got home and hardly tweaked it before submission - I did not labour over this for days. It was a tingle story - I got a good feeling as soon as it was done ... and for once I was right. So, you never know how well you can do unless you submit.

Go on have a dabble and write a drabble!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Spread the book love

I read recently on The Prime Writer's website that the best way to support an author, and particularly an author friend, is to buy their book. I like to extend that in supporting as many authors as possible by buying books. My book buying habit can get a little out of hand so I try to spread the love in as many ways as I can. Let me count the ways ...

1. Independent bookshops - We're really lucky to have a terrific local bookshop in Steyning. The Steyning Bookshop had its 30th birthday last year and regular hosts author events. Sarah the owner is very friendly and knowledgeable. It's a wonderful place to browse and inhale books. They support local authors and stock Wendy Clarke's short story collection Room in Your Heart.

2. High street bookshops - I've recently discovered Waterstones has a Click and Collect service. You can reserve a book and later collect in store 2 hours later. I'm not sure why but it's cheaper to do this. I reserved and collected 3 books last week saving £8 on the in-store price.

3. Online - Yes, I do buy from Amazon. Having Student Prime means I can get books next day. I do occasionally buy second-hand from Amazon. I know this doesn't support the author but sometimes books for my MA course were simply too expensive new. However, if I love something I often then get a new copy later.

My workshop mates recommended Hive. You can buy books (and other goods) online to have home delivered (free for next 5 days) or collect from a local indie bookshop. With each sale they give a percentage to the local bookshop that you nominate. When I went to check them out for this blog post I ended up buying Mary Berry's Christmas Collection as it was £4.25 cheaper than anywhere else. I rather like this idea of buying online and some of the revenue still goes to an indie bookshop.

4. Library - OK, this is not buying books but it still supports the author via the PLR system. Again I'm very lucky to live close to 4 excellent libraries: Steyning, Horsham, Storrington and Worthing. To date these seem to be surviving but you never know ... I try to regularly borrow books from all of them as my thinking is use 'em or lose 'em.

5. Charity shops - Again, I know this doesn't directly support the author, but I like to feel I'm supporting a charity instead. Also it can get you into a new author you've not read before. I recently bought this stack of books all in excellent condition from local Lions bookshop.

6. Author events - if you can get the chance to hear a favourite author read or meet them at a signing then go for it. If I go to any event then I usually buy a book and get it signed. I've met some of my all-time heroes this way, such as Rose Tremain, Matt Haig and Edna O'Brien. My recent hot flush moment was chatting to David Mitchell when getting my copy of Slade House signed.

I'm sure there are plenty more ways to spread the book love and support an author. What other ways do you have?