Welcome to my blog

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

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A FISH-y story

I've sneaked on here while LitPig is snoozing in the spring sunshine. The theme of this brief post is NEVER give up. I try never to give up on a short story if I truly love it and keep trying with competitions even when there's no hint of success. One such writing competition is the annual Fish International Short Story Prize. I've been submitting entries to that one since 2010. The winners and listed came out last week for 2014/2015 - read them here. I wasn't hopeful of getting anywher ... but there I am on the shortlist (the last name!). And when I saw it I almost cried. Didn't win (or come close) but I didn't care. For me this was one very personal measure of success. We all judge our progress in different ways and that's what makes us unique. For me this was a particularly special moment in my writing career to date.

Another big deal for me was that the Fish shortlisted story is the second story taken from my novel. The first story was shortlisted for the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Short Story prize. So I'm taking that as a positive sign ...

What have been the special moments for you? Please share ...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Last Rose by Wendy Clarke

With only one week to go have you sorted your present for Mother's Day? If your mum is a reader then why not give her Wendy Clarke's latest short story collection, The Last Rose.

In his hand is the rose, as beautiful as I have ever seen - its creamy apricot petals curling inwards from his palm. He holds it out as one might a precious gift.
“The Last Rose is for you,” he says.
The Last Rose, is a collection of short stories of family and friendship. All thirteen stories have previously been published in either The People's Friend, Woman’s Weekly or Take a Break Fiction Feast Magazines. If you like stories with emotional depth and a satisfying ending, then these stories will not fail to leave you unmoved. 
The stories in this collection explore the intricate family relationships of thirteen ordinary people. In them, we discover the sorrow, love and joy that is shared... but not always spoken.

What LitPig has to say about the collection:
All of these stories are uplifting and will make you smile. Some will resonate and you may blink back a few tears. Wendy captures the true feelings between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and brilliantly evokes the love between grandparents and their grandchildren. I loved how she also effectively writes about fostering and the challenge of loving a child with Asperger's. These stories are also about friendship and finding new friends in new places. One of my favourites was the title story 'The Last Rose', a gentle and effective tale on the true meaning of friendship.

Wendy Clarke is a full time writer of women's fiction. Her work regularly appears in national women's magazines such as The People's Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman's Weekly. She has also written serials and a number of non-fiction magazine articles.
Wendy has published two collections of short stories, Room in Your Heart and The Last Rose.
Wendy lives with her husband, cat and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food! 

You can find The Last Rose here: Paperback, Kindle. Why not treat your mum and yourself to a copy. 
If you fancy a collection chock full of romance then check out Wendy's first collection Room in Your Heart available here: Paperback, Kindle.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

From short stories to novel: Tracy Fells talks with Jo Derrick

The Indoor Writer was recently talking with fellow writer, Jo Derrick, on the transition from writing short stories to writing a novel. You can read the whole interview on Jo's blog here.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Lit Live: Open Mic

If you live close to Farnham (Surrey) then why not pop along to this event on 9 March (7.30pm start) ...
One of the organisers is Melanie Whipman - you can contact her if you would like to read at the event.
Melanie has kindly come along today to share some advice if you fancy reading at this or any other Open Mic.

Ten minute slots, to include an introduction, so three poems or about 1000 words of prose as a maximum.
(Work out your own WPM (words per minute) speed. But 1500 words is generally about ten minutes.)
Don’t forget the old (somewhat sexist) adage: ‘A speech is like a woman’s skirt: it needs to be long enough to cover the subject matter but short enough to hold the audience’s attention.’  
Avoid too much dialogue – unless you have a flair for drama and can differentiate your characters. If there is an extended area of dialogue you can’t avoid, then you may need to add more speech tags. What’s obvious on the written page, might not be so clear when read aloud.
Don’t overdo the profanities…
You’re here to entertain your audience. So avoid dark, harrowing themes. Remember there’s a massive difference between ‘poignant’ and ‘depressing’.
Practice – with cotton wool in your ears. It works, honest!

Melanie Whipman is a PhD student and an Associate Lecturer at the University of Chichester. Her prose and poetry has been broadcast on Radio 4 and published in various anthologies and magazines. Her short story collection, Llama Sutra, will be published by Ink Tears Press later this year. You can find her at www.melaniewhipman.com

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.