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

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Beyond first draft: Richard Buxton's Top Tips for Redrafting

Please welcome writer Richard Buxton back on the blog today ... he's generously come along to share his 5 top tips for redrafting. The Indoor Writer is applying all of these to her novel (now in third draft), but some of these apply to any form of fiction.

Richard Buxton is studying for an M.A. is Creative Writing at Chichester University. He has recently completed a novel set in the American Civil War and also writes historical, contemporary and experimental short stories. He dabbles in poetry but really shouldn’t. He is a member of the West Sussex Writers and lives in Worthing.
Check out Richard's website
Twitter:  @richardbuxton65

1 - Start with a reduction draft
Chances are you’re going to work through many drafts, each concentrating on a different aspect: plot, character, drama. I’d recommend you start with a draft where you look to reduce the word count. You can nip out sentences, paragraphs and sometimes whole scenes that you won’t have to sweat over later.  If you have thoughts on character or plot, put them in a log for later drafts.
2 - Get someone to read it
But don’t, while drunk on the euphoria of finishing the first draft, send it out to all your friends and relations. I guarantee you’ll regret it. There are only two possible outcomes. Either they shower you with praise – this is actually useless in terms of developing the book – or they’ll say something that you’ll want to punch them for every time you see them. It has to be someone who understands writing. Above all, someone who’s opinion you respect, but who won’t be bringing up your plot flaws down the pub or over Christmas dinner. But remember, it’s your baby; no one else’s.
3 - Handling of time
How is time handled in your novel? A strong, forward moving narrative is often best supported by the simplest handling of time. Has your character had to dip into their childhood more times than you are comfortable with? Do you beautifully paint a place and time at the beginning of a chapter only to go into flashback from the second paragraph? Could a flashback be softened to a simpler memory? Does the reader need to know all this, or are you really writing character notes to yourself?
4 - Visualise your plot
Get an A1 pad, or better yet a whiteboard, and draw time along the vertical axis. Then sketch in your plot as it’s presented in the book.  Put in the key events as milestones, draw arcs for the main story line and the sub-plots. Then stand back and see what you’ve created. Are there sufficient subplots and payoffs to keep a reader happy? Is there a satisfactory convergence of plot lines towards the climax? Maybe one plot line doesn’t sufficiently relate to the others. Do you need it?
5 - Be precise about emotion
It’s really easy to write a good, well-choreographed, visual scene without ever having asked yourself what are the emotions in play. Identify the emotional highpoint of the scene. Have you built up to this? Do your characters' emotions change or intensify? Often, just by getting the emotions clear you’ll draw out the drama.

All good tips. Thank you, Richard!

(Now as I'm currently reading the finished version of Richard's novel I'm a little nervous about his right hook ...)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Feeling peckish?

Please welcome the lovely Joy Bounds as our guest today. I first met Joy several years ago at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School (Joy and her pal, Shirley, host a great party) and never realised she was a vegetarian. I've been a veggie since leaving university (too many years ago to note) and recently started back on the 5:2 (Fasting) diet. Few of the recipe books for this diet are suitable for veggies so I was excited to discover Joy talking about her new book 5:2 Diet for Vegetarians on Facebook.

5:2 diet: you eat normally for 5 days (normally does not mean stuffing your face!) and then eat a restricted amount of calories (5-600) on 2 other days of the week (non-consecutive days). Simples!

I'm not a terrific cook but do like to make soup and Joy has several excellent and tasty recipes such as orange & broccoli, mushroom & chestnut and my old favourite, butternut squash. I particularly liked how this has a 4 week plan (8 days in total) but you can of course mix and match. All the calories are clearly given and the instructions are well written and easy to follow. There's also low calorie versions of veggie chilli and ratatouille, which I must try out instead of resorting to opening a can ... You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy these recipes and I think you get more for your calorie count - a bonus!
Hmm, now I leave you in Joy's capable hands while I going and try out her recipe for Shashouka (a middle-Eastern dish).

Let's find out more about Joy and her recipes ...

About me
Writing a cookbook (5:2 Diet for Vegetarians) was a new adventure for me, as normally I focus on women’s issues and women in history. I’ve self-published a novel about Joan of Arc (Far From Home), and The History Press published my local history about Ipswich suffragettes (A Song of their Own). I do like a bit of variety (diversion?) whilst concentrating on novel-writing. I live in Suffolk and like to sing, and work on different projects with other women. You can see more about me and my books at www.joybounds.co.uk
(Also Joy is on Twitter: @JoyBounds1)

How did you get the idea for a recipe book?
The 5:2 diet became popular in 2013, and when I started it I discovered that there were very few recipes for veggies. As a veggie of 40+ years, I have an enormous repertoire of vegetarian dishes and I started to adapt these to suit the low-calorie count required by the diet. Publisher Luscious Books (who specialise in cookbooks for people who use a restricted range of foods) thought this might be useful to other vegetarians, especially if we created ‘the first month of the diet’ by providing eight full days of calorie-counted recipes. Around Christmas-time we brought the book out.
How did you decide what to put in and leave out?
Trying to create a dish of about 150 calories almost defines itself what foods you can use or not. Cheese, bread, potatoes, oil, even pulses can only be used in tiny amounts (all these no-no foods tend to be my favourites!), so I adapted much-loved vegetable-based dishes. I also wanted to put in the book as wide a variety of vegetables as possible, and also types of dish (omelette to chili). It had to be interesting too, and hopefully offer something attractive to vegetarian dieters.
Tell us about the research and cooking process.
A lot of cooking trials were required to get the right balance of foods to add up to the right number of calories. For example, in soups the thickening agent (flour, potato etc) tends to be heavy on calories, so a balance has to be struck between that and the amount of stock and different vegetables (all of which have their own calorie count). Flavour is crucial, and herbs and spices come into their own as they are low in calories but deliver a punch. A tiny bit of a strongly-flavoured cheese (such as blue cheese or feta) is worth its weight in gold! Sometimes I would have a freezer full of tasty but ‘failed’ recipes!
Counting calories can be tricky – how did you ensure accuracy?
To my surprise, there doesn’t seem to be any gold-standard as far as calorie-counting is concerned, though books and online resources have broad agreement. I used mainly Collins Gem Calorie Counter as it was clear and very comprehensive – and easy to use in the busy kitchen. The calorie count will be more accurate when using the metric measures in the recipes (grams etc), and less so when using the less precise USA cup measurement.
Have you used the book yourself to lose weight?
The 5:2 diet has been a good way for me to lose and maintain my weight within reasonable limits. However, writing a cookbook is not a good way to lose weight, so I am currently working my way through the book again. I really like the idea of having a whole day’s meals planned and calorie-counted for me, and I’m pleased with the recipes in the book as I cook them in their final version once more.
You can find 5:2 Diet for Vegetarians here on Amazon Kindle.

I have found the 5:2 diet works for me and is the only diet I've ever been able to stick to and keep off weight. But I understand it may not suit everyone. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

First draft and beyond!

On 31 December 2014 The Indoor Writer completed the first draft of her novel (at 5.15pm to be precise). The target was to get this done by the end of the year, so she made it by the skin of her teeth. 

Here it is in all it's glory - 434 pages.
Last week she met with writing friend, Richard Buxton, to discuss the next steps over coffee and biscuits (far too many). Richard has completed 5 significant drafts of his historical novel (set in the American Civil War) and is now starting to submit to agents. We're reading his novel as part of a novel review group and it's turning out to be a cracking read. He shared the processes he followed and how he tracked the editing stages using excel - we must invite him onto the blog soon to share his top tips. (You can follow Richard on Twitter @RichardBuxton65 and check out his website here.)

What happens next? What happens beyond the first draft?
Well, Stephen King in his memoir 'On Writing' advocates printing out the manuscript, reading it through and marking up the changes. So the beast has been printed and a read through is the next step. We suspect it needs a lot more work than a 'mark-up', but it's a start and the plan is to first identify any significant problems in the narrative i.e. plot threads, character issues, research gaps etc.

The spreadsheet is in place and we're all set for SECOND DRAFT.

Are you in the process of editing a novel? Please share any top tips that work for you.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Smoked Meat - a short story collection by Rowena Macdonald

I'm delighted to welcome my first blog guest of 2015, an inspiring short story writer whose list of competition credits and successes continues to grow: Rowena Macdonald. In fact I met Rowena at the Write Idea Festival Prize giving ceremony in Tower Hamlets (Nov 2014) where we were both finalists. Rowena took the Tower Hamlets prize with her incredibly atmospheric story with a strong sense of place, Phosphoresence (read it here). I've invited Rowena along today to particularly talk about her first short story collection Smoked Meat (Flambard Press).

This is a collection of short stories set in contemporary Montreal. I would recommend to read the stories in order as many characters reappear and cleverly you learn more about them throughout the narratives. This is a collection strong on characters and setting, it's very accessible and I found myself loving the characters so much I had to keep reading. Usually, I only read one story at a time from a collection, but with Smoked Meat it almost reads as a novel and you want to know more and more about the underdogs who populate the poorer  side of Montreal.

I highly recommend this collection and any other short stories by Rowena. She has a real talent for writing gritty, underdog characters that you root for, but also her work as genuine heart. Her short story in the Unthology 4 anthology (Unthank Books) about a disabled soldier meeting a rich man really touched me and still lingers long after reading.

Rowena Macdonald lives in London. Smoked Meat (Flambard Press), her debut collection, was short-listed for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize. Her short stories have also been published by Influx Press, Galley Beggar Press, Ambit, Unthank Books, and Serpent's Tail. In the last year she won first prize in Glimmer Train's 'Family Matters' competition, the Tower Hamlets Prize in the 2014 Write Idea competition and runner-up in the 2013 Royal Society of Literature's VS Pritchett Prize. She has recently finished a novel, which is currently with her agent, Jamie Coleman of Greene & Heaton.

Firstly, thank you Rowena for coming along to guest on the blog today. It's lovely to have you here.
Q:  You've had quite a bit of competition success with short stories. How did you approach the project of putting a collection together and why did you choose a themed collection?

I started writing Smoked Meat in 2002. I knew I wanted to write about Montreal, which is where I lived for a year at the turn of the millennium, as it had such a particular atmosphere that I wanted to pin it down in words, but initially I couldn't work out how to do it. My first attempts were all too much like a memoir and it bored me to write about myself. Then, by chance, I read a poem entitled 'Montreal' by August Kleinzahler in the London Review of Books, which entirely captured the spirit of the city for me. This poem inspired 'Double-Take', the first story I wrote in the collection, which is now in the middle of the book. Once I'd written 'Double-Take', which is about a character called Corinna, I wrote a story about her ex-boyfriend, Henry, and then a story about a couple that Corinna glimpses from her window. Once I'd written three or four stories, other stories occurred to me and I decided it would be satisfying to write a themed collection; satisfying for both the reader and for me, as I wouldn't have to keep thinking of totally disparate stories and I could explore and create a self-contained fictional world. I also hoped it would be easier to get a themed collection published.     

Q. The title 'Smoked Meat' is intriguing and unusually is not the title of one of the stories in the collection  - where does the title come from?

Smoked meat is Jewish salt beef, a Montreal speciality. You have it on bagels. I ate it a lot when I was there. The title is a metaphor for the way a big city can 'smoke' a person, turn them from an innocent, from 'green meat', into something stronger. Many of the characters in 'Smoked Meat' are naive incomers to Montreal and their experiences toughen them up. It reflects the way I felt about my time in Montreal. I was living there without a visa, working cash in hand, and the kind of people who employ illegal workers are often fairly unpleasant so I ended up having some harsh experiences. It was an adventure though.
Q  All of the stories are set amongst a group of characters living in Montreal. How much of your own experience of living and working in Montreal made it into the collection? I'd love to know if any of the characters are based on real people or locations (if you can admit this!)

A lot of mine and my Montreal friends' experiences made it into the collection but all the experiences are mixed up; nothing is lifted wholesale from real life and plonked on the page. It is all filtered through the medium of fiction. The same goes for the characters. Aspects are drawn from people I knew but there are elements that are entirely fictional. All the locations are real, apart from in 'Boys 'n' Men', the story that's partly set in New York. The only real location in that is CBGBs. Oh, and Boutique Samba isn't the real name of the shop where Freya works in 'Secrets of Voodoo'; I changed that to protect the guilty...

Q Many short story writers dream of publishing a collection and you achieved this without going the self-publishing route. Can you tell us how 'Smoked Meat' made it into print?

Initially, I attempted to get an agent for it (I even attempted to get an agent in New York) but none were interested in short stories, so I sent it to numerous small presses over the course of five years, got a lot of rejections, but eventually Will Mackie at Flambard Press picked it up in 2011. I was utterly thrilled and am eternally grateful to him. I was very persistent about sending it out.  

Q Can you share any of your writing quirks or habits? Do you have a particular routine for writing for example or triggers that help you to get a story underway?

I don't really have any quirks. But I am quite routine about writing. When I started out, I used to do an hour and half every day before work. Now I work part-time and write on Thursdays and Fridays, sometimes only Fridays during term-time when I am teaching. I occasionally write at weekends. I suffer constant guilt that I am not writing enough and irritation that real life is getting in the way but obviously real life is where I get my ideas. I tend to go to the British Library or to my local library in Bethnal Green. I find it less distracting than at home, where my boyfriend is always barging in. Even if he is out I have the anxiety that he is going to come home and barge in. Unfortunately, I don't have a 'room of my own'. I have a lot of ideas for stories backed up in my notebook. When starting a story I tend to brainstorm, type very quickly everything that occurs to me, any phrases, imagery or bits of dialogue, and then I write the story in a linear way from start to finish and incorporate all my brain-storming notes. Other ideas occur as I am writing. Then I edit a lot, cutting out extraneous words and flabby phrasing.
Q With the success of 'Smoked Meat' (short listed for the Edge Hill Prize) are you planning a further collection of short stories? If you're not superstitious can you also share what you're currently working on? 

I did start another collection of interlinked short stories, but haven't got that far with it, as I've been distracted with finishing my novel. I also started another novel last summer but, again, that has been put on the back-burner because of the current novel. I've got enough finished disparate stories for an unthemed collection but, for the moment, I am focussing on the final changes to this current novel, which I hope my agent will start sending out to publishers soon. I don't really want to say what it's about right now, for various reasons which will be revealed if and when it ever does find a publisher.

Smoked Meat is available from Inpress Books and all the other usual outlets.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

2015: THE GOALS!

I've posted before on the importance of WRITING down your goals/objectives so I won't bore you with all that again, but I do want to share mine here and, just as importantly, review what happened in 2014. I'm incredibly lucky to have Wendy as my writing chum - we meet at the beginning of every month to talk over our progress (the ups and downs of a writer's life) and to look ahead. Yesterday, we met for a mammoth session (the tearoom staff were very understanding despite us taking root for almost 3 hours!) and now have our Writing Goals all set down for 2015.

But first let's look back over 2014 ...
30 positive successes, which I count as competition wins/placements/shortlisting & long listings, stories sold, stories published online or in anthologies/magazines etc

Out of these successes 20 stories were published, but only 10 resulted in income.
The really bad news for 2014 was my overall income from writing was significantly down (I won't depress you with the figures). My writing business is basically running at a loss. The shareholders would be pulling the plug by now me thinks ...
Some part of this is due to focusing (quite rightly) on my MA in Creative Writing (University of Chichester) and completing the novel. Meaning I had less time to write new short stories or articles.

At the beginning of 2014 I posted my goals for the year here and am pleased to announce the top 3 were all achieved. I am putting together a collection of short stories, but I hope to attract a publisher for these rather than self-publish (aim high I say).

These are the ones I'm most proud of ...

  • First draft of novel completed (>100,000 words)
  • Shortlisted for the COMMONWEALTH WRITERS SHORT STORY PRIZE (read more here)
  • Judge on Hysteria 2014 Writing Competition (short story, flash fiction & poetry categories)
  • Runner-up HE BATES Short Story Prize (more here)
  • Finalist WRITE IDEA Short Story Prize (more here)
  • Short stories published in new anthologies: Fugue (Siren Press), Light in the Dark (Bridge House)

And I was asked to submit my work-in-progress novel to several Literary Agents (unsolicited by me) ...

So what came out of the teacake chat with Wendy?
1. Finish and submit dissertation for MA.
2. Identify a list of Literary Agents I would like to work with.
3. Complete editing/polishing of novel and begin submission to identified agents.
4. >50 short stories published (currently at 43).

These hopefully are within my control. Note, I didn't list: get an agent, sign a book deal etc because those are not strictly within my control. I can do the utmost to ensure my work is of the highest standard, but the rest is in the lap of the Writing Gods - and we know how fickle they can be ...

What are your writing goals for 2015? 
We'd love to hear them.

Monday, 22 December 2014

What are you reading for Christmas?

As you can see LitPig is all ready for Christmas. Most importantly he has the holiday reading list all sorted:
Lamentation by CJ Sansom - the latest adventure of Tudor lawyer & sleuth Shardlake

Smoked Meat by Rowena MacDonald - a collection of short stories set in Montreal

The Lie by Helen Dunmore - a WW1 novel

After the Storm by Jane Lythell - her second novel a thriller set in the Caribbean

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths - book 5 in the Ruth Galloway (forensic archaeologist) series

The Indoor Writer is looking forward to settling down with these. She was planning a complete Christmas shutdown (from writing), but is so close to finishing first draft of the novel that she may keep going ... with bursts of reading, eating & drinking (not to mention cooking) thrown in for good measure.

So, what are you reading this Christmas?

Merry Christmas &
a Happy New Year!

Friday, 19 December 2014

2014: Remembering the best bits - 3 talented guests

It's that the time when we all think back over the year to re-live the good bits (more on this in another post) and block out the bad (rejection, rejection, rejection). Today, I've been thinking back to all the lovely guests we've welcomed to the blog in 2014. They were all so well behaved (even Wendy Clarke) and fun to spend time with.

You can read their interviews here:

Juliet West - click here to read about Juliet's marvellous debut 'Before
the Fall'. Recently listed in Kobo's top historical reads for 2014 alongside such greats as CJ Sansom, Philippa Gregory, Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett (Congratulations, Juliet!)

Wendy Clarke - click here to read about Wendy's first collection of short stories 'Room in your heart' - an excellent romantic read for Christmas evenings by the fire (chocolates and hankies essential).

Jane Lythell - click here to read more on Jane's debut psychological novel 'The Lie of You'. Another great fireside read.