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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, 5 September 2016

Do screenwriters have more fun?

London Screenwriters' Festival, 31 August: Masterclass in Advanced Structure with John Yorke


ACT I
Never pre-judge an event's audience, that's a lesson I learned last Wednesday at the London Screenwriters' Festival. I'd signed up for a day's Masterclass with TV/Film writer John Yorke on Advanced Structure (Screenwriting) and expected to be one of the oldest attendees as screenwriting tends to be a young writers genre. On arriving at Regents University I was overwhelmed to find myself in a packed auditorium (circa 200 people) with writers of all ages and backgrounds - many were novelists/short story writers like myself but huge fans of John Yorke's book Into the Woods and obsessed with STRUCTURE. Men are usually outnumbered 10:1 at the writing events I've been to but here there was true equality, well in numbers anyway.
I was there because I'm keen to write more drama (and yes, one day a screenplay) and I have a fascination with structure in storytelling, on which John Yorke is an expert. He was introduced onto the stage with a standing ovation, clapping, cheering and the sort of welcome not usually produced by a gentile audience of writers. Clearly, screenwriting is the glamour end of the writing profession. This was a quality set-up too with a sound system booming out Film music and a massive screen - thankfully there was air conditioning, which worked. Impressively, John Yorke talked without notes all day and happily took questions at any time.


ACT II
John took us through the basics of structure: 3 and 5 acts, as well as touching upon the theories of Christopher Vogler, Christopher Booker, Robert McKee, Freytag and John Truby (to name a few). I'm not going to reproduce the detail here as you can get a idea of the content by reading Into the Woods. I'd read his book the week before and this really helped, as suddenly his examples were being brought to life - literally, as he showed numerous film and TV clips. Interestingly, he also gave examples to demonstrate how the laws of storytelling and use of structure have been hijacked by the politicians. He used speeches by Ronald Reagan and Michelle Obama to highlight this. We learned that Michelle owed a debt to Cicero (Roman orator, born 106 BC) and his classic 6 part speech structure (or her speech writers did...)
I wanted to cheer when John Yorke said "Structural theory should apply to all narrative forms" and that basically all stories have a Beginning / Middle / End or Set up / Confrontation / Resolution ie a 3 Act structure. This is something to remember when editing a short story or novel. He believes most writers don't plan structure, it just happens as an innate part of the writing process. Structure and order is not imposed on the stories we write or tell because "We are incapable of NOT ordering the world." Basically, human beings thrive on order even in their virtual lives of storytelling.
For me the epiphany moment was when he talked about the MIDPOINT of a story. The midpoint should occur exactly half way through, it is the moment of most significant change ie a life changing moment for your protagonist or main character. It's point in the story where the stakes are raised and the character's life is changed forever. Find the midpoint and suddenly everything clicks. This is something I need to think about while editing my second novel and John's words here really helped me to plan what I need to do. He also talked about how the second half of a story should really be the consequences of what happened at the midpoint - again sound and sensible advice for any writer.
ACT III

For the last session we watched a 30min Panorama documentary The Taliban Hunters concerning the Karachi police's struggle with Taliban terrorists. Our mission was then (in groups of 4) to outline a screenplay for our film version of the story we wanted to tell from the facts. 30 mins to come up with a pitch for a Hollywood blockbuster. My group had a lot of fun and though we didn't get to pitch our film (we planned to cast Tom Hiddleston as the rogue Western reporter learning tough lessons in Karachi) it was an interesting exercise in collaborative writing. Most of us writing novels or short stories write in isolation and it can be a lonely business. Many TV series and films are created by a team of writers and I can see the attraction. Brainstorming and then getting excited as our ideas evolved and triggered more from each new suggestion was a liberating experience. Perhaps, not to everyone's taste or style of writing but I really enjoyed it and it has made me think about how I would want to approach a screenplay if I ever take the plunge. I would be very interesting in a collaboration with other writers.
Six teams got to pitch their blockbusters to John Yorke and 2 other screenwriters who really knew their stuff.  The pointers given easily applied to pitching a novel and I listened avidly to the feedback. Get in quick with the title and then the hook. Cut out all detail - that can come later - but sell the protagonist and the problem they have to solve. If you can label your film/novel/TV show in some way, then go for it. One guy pitched his film as "The Untouchables meets Training Day in Karachi" - that was all they needed, he'd sold his idea with one line. "I'd want to see that film," said one judge. Okay, not my cup of tea but I'm not a Hollywood Producer looking for the next hot script.
As John signed my copy of his book I slipped in a question about the novel I'm editing. It has 3 protagonsists, so 3 midpoints in the story and I asked him if they should all come exactly at the centre of the book or should this be the midpoint for the main protagonist. He came up with several excellent suggestions for me to think through. I need to check but spookily I think I may already written the storyline to match one of his scenarios.
On Friday I'm off to York for the Festival of Writing. I have 3 one-to-one sessions booked (2 agents and an editor) so I do feel better equipped to 'sell' my novels.
The final act of a well structured story is the hero's journey home. I did make it home, despite the efforts of Southern Rail, but that folks is another story ...
 
Finally, as you can see LitPig recommends John Yorke's Into the Woods - How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. Honestly, you don't have to wannabe a screenwriter to enjoy this book, it really does apply to all forms of storytelling.
 
Is anyone else out there going to the Festival of Writing? Let me know, as it would be lovely to meet you there.
 
 


Thursday, 23 June 2016

In a flash

Saturday 25 June is in my diary for two good reasons. Firstly, it's Handsome Hubby's birthday - enough said. And once again it's that fabulous annual event NATIONAL FLASH FICTION DAY (NFFD) organised by Calum Kerr and his team of flashers.


I'm a flash fiction addict. Love writing it. Love reading it. Love talking about it! This year I was delighted to learn two of my flash stories have made it into the NFFD anthology: A box full of stars beneath the bed. The anthology contains flash fiction from 100 words up to 500 from lots of well known names. Some stories have been commissioned from writers such as Claire Fuller, Paul McVeigh, Sarah Hilary and master flasher himself, Calum Kerr. This is now available in paperback and Kindle, you can buy it here.


There are organised events taking place on the day and you can read about how to join in here or follow on Twitter @Nationalflashfd. A regular event for #NFFD is the online Flash Flood Journal where a flash story is published on the NFFD blog every 10-15 mins throughout the day (24 hours of flash fiction!). You can link to each story via Twitter. I have a story flooding out at 1pm on Saturday, just in time for lunch. Hope you enjoy it.

If you've not read any flash before or know nothing about this genre then please do dip in and read some of the stories released on the day. I am always amazed and delighted by how much beauty/humour/pathos etc can be squeezed into such small word counts. Many flash stories are miniature gems that can indeed sparkle like a box of stars beneath the bed ...

Monday, 13 June 2016

Let Suzanne Conboy-Hill tell you a story

LitPig is tickled pink to welcome Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill to the blog today. Suzanne is a talented and imaginative writer, as well as being an all-round clever person ... read on to learn why ...
Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill was a clinical psychologist for adults with intellectual disabilities for almost thirty years, working in NHS community services in London and Sussex. Latterly, as a writer of fiction, her observations of the impact of limited literacy on inclusion, communication, and exposure to the imaginings of others via written language led to thoughts about how that might be changed. This book is the result of one of those threads of thought. As a writer, she is a Lascaux Short Fiction Finalist, Flash Fiction Chronicles Finalist, and Best of the Net nominee. Her stories – some SF, some speculative, and some based in grim realism -  have been published by Zouch Magazine, Full of Crow, Fine Linen Literary Journal, and the Lascaux 2014 anthology amongst others. She lives in the UK, holds degrees in several specialist areas of psychology and an MA in Creative Writing from the university of Lancaster. Here is her website http://www.conboy-hill.co.uk/[1
Q. When you first approached me about this concept I was really excited to know I was  going to be part of the first Readalongreads anthology. Can you tell us something about the project and your objectives for the anthology.
It goes right back to working with adults with intellectual disability whose literacy is often severely compromised. I’d spent a lot of time assessing people for decisional capacity or facing eviction or criminal prosecution for failing to adhere to written contracts they’d been given, and it was clear to me that while many of them could read the words at a technical level, their fluency was so impaired that meaning was non-existent. Sometimes sensitive and confidential material had been read to them by someone else which made it invasive and unsafe. I thought there had to be a better way.
At the same time, there was the problem of reading for fun. How do you make ‘adult literacy’ attractive when there’s no decent fiction aimed at people like yourself? It was obvious to me that people had a mental life that included imagination (and why would they not?) simply by the reality of having to keep up with the soaps myself so as not to get caught out in a re-enactment of a current storyline. I’d called an ambulance once for a young woman draped over the chairs looking pale and floppy only to hear of that exact scenario in the previous night’s EastEnders! People clearly wanted and enjoyed fiction.
The solution – or an approach to one – came with the ubiquity of smart phones, and the appearance of QR codes that could take you straight to a website without having to type in the address. I thought then about how a voice file that someone could listen to in private via their ear buds could support (not take the place of) reading and no one would be any the wiser about their difficulties. I thought too about adding voice files to the collections of short stories and poems some groups had already published but presumably could no longer access unless they could read. This was the basis of what was going to be a small demonstration booklet for local distribution and that became the anthology now sitting there on Amazon!
Q. What were the technical challenges for putting this together? How did you overcome them?
There weren’t as many of these as there could have been as I’d already published a couple of books via Lulu so I knew the ropes reasonably well. The main issue for me was re-publication rights, and securing a host site for the sound. I’d asked people to confirm that they had the rights to the work they wanted included, but there were some very last minute hiccups with a couple of contributions and so I wrote to all the publishers involved so there could be no doubt. If I do this again, that will be the very first priority! As to the sound files; I needed a host site I could control because, while SoundCloud is good, it runs tracks on one after the other and some aren’t even from your own list. This meant setting up something new and Readalongreads came into being; a place where I could also post updates and promotional material. There’s even a science page if anyone feels so inclined!
Q. Producing the anthology is only one part of the story. How are you promoting ‘Let Me Tell You a Story’? I believe you recently had a breakthrough with Lulu …
Yes! Bless ‘em, they wrote a little piece and put it out on LinkedIn and Facebook so I’ve taken a screenshot I can send out elsewhere. But promotion is surely the devil’s work? Like most writers, I’m not a natural seller so plugging via Facebook, twitter, blogs and the like is excruciating because I’m aware I’m shoving it at the same crowd all the time. Luckily, with an anthology there’s a range of contributors I can promote which makes it a little easier but it’s still quite limited in its scope. To maximise exposure, I’ve printed flyers that describe the book and link to Ian MacMillan’s Foreword (by QR of course!) and I’m sending these out to bookshops. I’m also sending copies of the book to libraries with the aim of eventually covering the country via key libraries in each county. The risk is they’ll bin it but I can hope they don’t, and if they have it there’s at least a fighting chance of it getting on the shelves. Then there’s reviews. I’m sending copies to some key ‘names’, plus literacy groups, psychology contacts, and the tech community because – pause for a trumpet blowing moment – I think this is a world first and I’d like to hear what those kinds of communities think about the QR/text idea itself as a support for literacy as well as an enhancer of the reading experience. Luckily, none of this needs to be done overnight so it can be drip-fed for as long as necessary.
Q. And what next for Readalong? Where would you like to see this initiative develop?
My ambition for this has always been to launch the technique and use the anthology as a reference. Getting the quality of content is a massive bonus and I can’t thank the contributors enough. Two of them have international standing: Phillippa Yaa de Villiers the commissioned poet for Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey in 2014 and Nguyen Phan Que Mai for the UN’s International Women’s Day event in 2016.
Thank you, Suzanne. And now here's the important details ...
You can buy the anthology Let Me Tell You a Story here and from Amazon here.
Find out more about Readalongreads here
Suzanne tweets: @strayficshion @demtigerpaw @GQinterview

Monday, 6 June 2016

A bun fest!

In the last few weeks I seem to have followed in Jane Austen's footsteps. First, a visit to the Cobb at Lyme Regis and last week I was in Bath, helping our son move out of his uni house (it took 2 cars to bring home his stuff!). In Bath I achieved two ambitions: meeting an online writing friend, Diane Simmons (@scooterwriter), in the flesh AND eating a Bath bun at the famous Sally Lunn bun shop where we met up (see above left - the oldest house in Bath built in 1482 and lived in by Sally Lunn in 1680). Mine came with cinnamon butter (see above right), but I found it rather sickly.

The last few weeks have given me some good reasons to eat buns. I've always said on here how important it is to celebrate the small stuff i.e. any glimmer of writing success. Well, here's why I've been celebrating (with buns of course):
Soundwork Audio Play competition: my play 'Sleep Diary' was shortlisted, making the final six. Sadly, it didn't win but I'm still pleased with its success. (The winning plays will be produced so watch out for that). I have to thank Patsy Collins for mentioning this competition on her wonderful blog - wouldn't have know about the opportunity otherwise!

National Flash Fiction Day 100-word Micro story competition: came Highly Commended. You can read the story here. The story evolved from a workshop exercise when I found Railway Land, read more here.

Take-a-Break Fiction Feast published my story 'Something in the Canal' in this month's (July) issue. It even got a special mention from the magazine's editor and features on the front cover!

Finally, while driving home from Bath I picked up an email from Ashley Stokes at Unthank books. A short story of mine has been selected to be part of Unthology 10 (an anthology to be published July 2017). This is a very prestigious anthology and I'm so pleased that my Commonwealth Writers shortlisted story 'Household Gods' has found a permanent home.

This week it's Teacake Wednesday with Wendy Clarke. I'm looking forward to reviewing May, setting new goals for June and feasting on even more buns!
Now where does the quote: 'There will be buns for tea?' originally come from? Leave a comment if you think you know. (Sorry, no bun prizes even if you do know.)





Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Dorset interlude

I've just returned from a fabulous week in Dorset. The plan was to get novel #2 to 60K words before leaving and happily I hit that target. That meant a week free from writing to walk, indulge in pub lunches (& Dorset beer), cream teas and lots of reading. You'll be pleased to know all those goals were also achieved. After a complete break from writing my head emptied (in a good way) and I'm already back on the novel with a target of 65K words by the end of May. I did hope to find some inspiration for new short stories during the break, but unlike my writing chum, Wendy (read here about her Italian holiday), nothing surfaced. I've learned not to push ideas, knowing they will come ... usually when least expected.

For now here's some photos of Dorset:

We stayed in Chideock in Greenwich Cottage, literally 15 min walk from the sea and the South Coast path. This was the view from our bedroom (left). Greenwich and Chideock cottages are owned by the lovely Heather and Alan, who welcomed us on arrival. Plus they left milk, wine and cookies! If you fancy a break in Dorset then I'd highly recommend either of their two cottages for a base.
A bonus was the local bus services, which ran on time and were reasonably priced. We took the bus to Bridport on market day and walked down to West Bay (above right) for lunch. Then back along the South Coat path to Seatown and Chideock.
Another day we took the bus to Lyme Regis and again walked back along the cliffs ... over Golden Cap (>700 ft).
Eventually we made it to Colmore's Hill (below), which seemed to appear wherever we walked in this part of Dorset. An atmospheric spot on top and 360 degree views (on a clear day!).
From there we descended into Hell Lane (right), as spooky as it looks.
The weather got a little damp for our last day so we returned to Lyme Regis as tourists, taking pasties to eat on the Cobb. I reckon these were the steps (below) that Louisa Musgrove tumbled down in Jane Austen's Persuasion (Chapter 12), into the arms of Captain Wentworth. What do you think? Apparently, Lord Tennyson, on visiting Lyme wanted to be shown the "exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell" - so clearly I was in good company!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Finding Railway Land

I was intrigued by writer Helen Yendall's recent blog post 'Twitter: Useful Tool or (yet another) Waste of Time? (read it here). Intrigued because it prompted some comments from those who clearly are not Twitter fans. I love it and I want to share a story of how I met some lovely writers, found a secret treasure and got inspired to write some new flash fiction ...

If it wasn't for Twitter then I wouldn't have learned ...
... how Waterstones in Lewes (East Sussex) has a section dedicated to short stories
... that the Lewes Short Story Club meet there (10-12noon) on the first Sunday of every month to read and discuss 3 short stories (and their writers) ... I've subsequently learned coffee and cake may be involved.
... how the Club (organised by mega talented superwoman, Holly Dawson) was running a Short Story workshop with Vanessa Gebbie on Saturday (9 April)
... that the workshop would be held at Railway Land, a secret and very special nature reserve right in the heart of Lewes (definitely a place I need to explore further)
... that I would meet a whole new bunch of writers (aged from 16 to 93. Yes, 93 and still writing. Ruth was an inspiration to us all!) - short story lovers who keenly soaked up Vanessa's wisdom
... from the morning workshop how I've missed writing really short stories and flash fiction and I need to make time for other writing projects (as well as the novel!)

So you can see I'd probably land on the side of Twitter as a 'Useful Tool'. I've also met lots of lovely people in the Twitterverse. Many who are becoming friends and others who I'll never meet, but I still feel some kinship with simply because they are writers. You can celebrate others' success, cheer friends on with their challenges or commiserate when those dreaded rejections come in. Yes, it can be hijacked by political commentators or trolls, but you don't have to follow them or read their tweets. You can use Twitter as you wish.

Now I'll be watching my Twitter timeline for news of the next Lewes Short Story Club meeting, as I really hope to join in with the short story natter. Sounds a perfect way to spend Sunday morning and perhaps I can persuade hubby to come along - with the promise of lunch somewhere in Lewes afterwards...

Finally, the workshop inspired LitPig to start reading Lydia Davis's collection of very very short stories: Can't and Won't. Davis is either barking mad or a genius. I think she may be both. This is a brilliant collection. Imaginative, whimsical and funny - VERY FUNNY.
LitPig also highly recommends Short Circuit, a collection of essays on the craft of short story writing (edited by Vanessa Gebbie). This was my bible during the MA and often quoted in module assignments. Definitely, one guide every short story writer needs on their bookshelf.

Monday, 4 April 2016

A golden target

Last week I sold my first story of 2016. Cause for celebration - ALWAYS - but also a milestone as this marked my 50th story scheduled for publication. Even more reason to celebrate was that this piece was a departure for me from literary fiction to write a commercial ghost story - a gamble that came off since I sold it to Take-a-Break Fiction Feast (a monthly fiction magazine that pays a good rate). The story was originally penned for my writing workshop group. Over the Christmas holidays we set ourselves a challenge to write a ghost story, something I rarely attempt. I had a lot of fun reading a variety of ghostly short stories to get myself into a spooky mood. The end result is I will be providing a very generous supply of buns for my workshop buddies next time we meet at my house. Once again, this demonstrates the merits of writing workshops - story sales and buns ...

Another piece of good news was making the long list for the prestigious Thresholds International Feature competition (read more here). This was the third time I'd entered and the first time for making the long list of 15. My feature The Golden Contract (recommending The Great Automatic Grammatizer, a short story by Roald Dahl) sadly didn't make the final short list of 6, but I'm hoping it will still be published on the Thresholds site later this year, which happens to be Roald Dahl's centenary anniversary (born 1916). Don't worry, I will be shouting about this if it happens ...

And since good news comes along in threes ... (rejections come all the time, they're not polite enough to form orderly groups) ... a short story of mine squeezed onto the Fish International Short Story long list (read more here). Okay, so it had plenty of company (480 stories long listed in total out of 1400), but who's counting. I got my name on the Fish Publishing website and I'll celebrate that!

More buns please ...