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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, 14 November 2016

Short Story Masterclass with Melanie Whipman

I met Melanie Whipman during my MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University where she's an Associate Lecturer. She is currently completing her PhD there and her debut short story collection Llma Sutra (published by Ink Tears Press) is now available. When it comes to writing short stories then Melanie is an expert so I was really looking forward to her Short Story Masterclass, a day devoted to the art of the short story.
The Masterclass was held at Lingwood House, Churt, in Surrey (see photo right) - a perfect rural location for a day of writing. No traffic or noise distractions, just a lovely garden to explore if we needed
inspiration. Attendees started arriving for 10am and we soon knew a little about each other before Melanie reigned us in to focus on short stories. Up until lunch we discussed what makes a good short story and also considered the importance of character versus plot. There was work to do and an interesting exercise involving all five senses, later developed into exploring a character. All of the group had the makings of a short story from this short writing exercise - I was very impressed at how effective it was.
We rested our writing brains over a tasty lunch of home-made quiches and salad, followed by pudding and coffee. Coffee and tea (and biscuits) kept us well nourished all day. The afternoon session allowed us to consider the importance of setting in the short story. We then worked through several writing exercises using setting and character mood. Many of us returned to the characters we'd created in the morning to further expand their stories. I'm not usually a fan of writing to order and often hit a blank with 'on the spot' exercises, but I found Melanie's techniques worked for me and I ended up with several pages of prose that I can develop further (and have done so post the class!).
Ring fencing time to focus a day on short story writing worked for me and I left feeling motivated and re-invigorated to get writing short stories again. With the added bonus of the bones of a new story beginning to emerge after the writing exercises. The setting was idyllic. The atmosphere relaxed, friendly and encouraging where everyone got the chance to share their ideas and thoughts. There was no pressure to read out any of the work from the exercises, but our group were all happy to do so as it felt like being amongst friends. Interestingly, not all the group wrote short stories and all of the content and exercises made sense for longer fiction too - so I think we all got a great deal out of the Masterclass.
Melanie is running this Masterclass again (January 2017) and other writing workshops are scheduled, full details are on her website here. Once a quarter she organises Live Lit evenings at The Hollybush, Frensham (Surrey), where I often read along with other writers (prose and poetry). These are always fun evenings, read more here. Hope to see you there one evening! The next one is 21st November ...

Melanie Whipman is a writer and lecturer who specialises in the short story form. Her fiction has been broadcast on Radio 4, has won various literary prizes and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. She runs creative writing courses in Farnham, and is an Associate Lecturer and PhD student at the University of Chichester. She is also Commissioning Editor for The Story Player. 
Her debut short story collection ‘Llama Sutra’ is due out in November with Ink Tears Press.
You can find her at www.melaniewhipman.com, and can order her book here: http://www.inktears.com/book-llamasutra/
You can also join the launch for Llama Sutra - a joint launch party is being held with Joanna Campbell for her collection When Planets Slip Their Tracks. Full details on Facebook here.

All photographs provided and reproduced here with the kind permission of Melanie Whipman.

Monday, 7 November 2016

30 days of Flash

November is NaNoWriMo month when many writers set themselves the challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel. I actually did this (and met the target) back in 2011, but swore NEVER AGAIN for various reasons. There seems to be more and more alternative November challenges popping up: a poem a day, 50,000 words but all on short stories etc. One that caught my interest is on Facebook: Flash Nano 2016, where a group of writes have set out to write one flash story a day.
October turned into a writing fast for me, not by design, yet somehow I slipped into a limbo state as I waited for feedback on my crime novel. I'd planned to start other projects and simply failed to get anything off the ground. On 1 November I was determined to write something. ANYTHING. I strapped myself down and managed a new 500 word story. The next day was my monthly goal setting session with writing chum Wendy and I had to come up with a November goal - particularly since I'd failed to meet October's target. Foolishly I made a snap decision and told her I would join the Flash nano challenge and write a new flash story every day: 30 days of Flash!
'So,' said Wendy, 'you've had a complete block on ideas for October and now you're going to need 30 different ideas - one a day - to meet this challenge?' (OK, she may have been a little blunter than this in reality).
'Yes,' I replied, beaming like a madwoman. 'It's going to be fun!'
And it has been tremendous fun. It's only day 7 of the challenge, but I have written a unique new story every day so far. I'm treating this as an opportunity to try out genres I never usually write ie horror, scifi etc. I'm also experimenting with word count from 50 up to 500. On the plus side I should end up with 30 new pieces which I could submit or perhaps adapt into longer stories. The ambitious side of me is already planning a new challenge: to place all 30 pieces. I may not confess that one to Wendy ...
If you fancy writing some Flash and are wondering about opportunities for submissions then here's a short list of some of my favourites - all FREE (there are hundreds more & competitions too if you have the time to search them out):
http://www.blink-ink.org/
Blink-Ink - 50 words
Paragraph Planet - 75 word stories
Readers' Digest 100 Word story - closes 20 Feb 2017
Spelk - up to 500 words, submissions open again mid November
Smoke Long Quarterly - up to 1,000 words
http://www.smokelong.com/Jellyfish Review - up to 1,000 words

Watch out for National Flash Fiction Day in 2017 which runs competitions and opportunities for publication. Left is the 2016 anthology A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, which includes 2 of my flash stories ...



Monday, 24 October 2016

Short story success

Most of this year I've been immersed in finishing my second novel and sadly have spent little time writing new short stories. This hasn't stopped me continuing to submit to competitions, magazines/journals and anthologies - thankfully this diligence has paid off in the last few months. October saw the publication of the HOPE themed issue for  POPSHOT magazine (you can buy it here), which includes my dystopian short story Footprints. I highly recommend this magazine (subscription is only £10 per annum) as each story or poem is beautifully illustrated by a specially commissioned piece of artwork. My story has a wonderful full page illustration by artist MIKE LEES (see above).
My success with POPSHOT is a story in itself as I've religiously sent stories to each open submission for the last two years. Perseverance does find it's own reward in the end.
I've also been lucky enough to have short stories on several competition short lists. I was particularly chuffed to make the final seven for the EXETER Story Prize (see results here), because the inaugural winner was my writing pal Richard Buxton. Richard is a member of my writing workshop group (we meet every month to review & critique each other's work), a talented writer of both fiction and non-fiction and a master storyteller. We were hoping that I'd bring home a second trophy for our group to admire, but sadly my story didn't make the top three.
Another example of perseverance is the BRIGHTON Prize (read more here) organised by Rattle Tales. This is the third year I've entered (for short story) and was delighted to make the final eleven of the shortlisted stories. The prize giving is on 28 October in Brighton, where I'm looking forward to meeting many of the other short listed writers and chatting over a glass of something chilled. My story will also be published in next year's Rattle Tales anthology.
On Friday I learned more good news. Another competition I've pursued for several years is the International WILLESDEN HERALD Short Story Prize, coveting the highly desirable Willesden Herald mug (first prize plus bottle of champagne). My short story is amongst the final ten short listed and will feature in the next anthology (read more here).

I may not make the podium for either of these latter competitions but that's not the point, making the short list for prestigious competitions is all good publicity for your writing. At least for a couple of days your name can be circulating on Twitter and Facebook etc. I make no apologies for shouting about success. A little buzz can't hurt and it helps to make up for the weeks/months when all you hear is rejection and 'not quite right for us'.
 
Have you had any good writing news lately? Do share!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Turning to crime

This summer I've been busy finishing and editing a second novel (a crime mystery), I also found time to squeeze in a couple of writing events: Winchester Writer's Conference and the Festival of Writing (FoW) in York. The photo above shows a tiny Joanna Cannon (in red) giving her concluding speech at FoW, which was incredibly honest and motivating. Jo Cannon famously won the Friday Night Live event at FoW in 2014, following which she was offered representation by seven agents. She chose  Susan Armstrong (Conville and Walsh) and this year her bestselling debut 'The Trouble with Goats and Sheep' was published by Borough Press.

I didn't attend the whole of the Winchester weekend but did travel down for the Friday Masterclass and had two 1-2-1s (an agent and a commissioning editor). Madeleine Milburn's Masterclass on 'Pitching' was excellent. I didn't think there was much more I could learn about this process and boy was I wrong. Madeleine led some excellent exercises and used real examples throughout - these were the most valuable part of the day. If you ever get the chance to hear Madeleine talk then grab it, she knows the business inside out and is also rather lovely too.

Several writing friends had shared that the York held Festival of Writing was THE event to attend if you were seriously seeking an agent. I saved up the pennies and bought a weekend ticket for all events and two 1-2-1s. I also paid for an additional 1-2-1 meeting with a book doctor (a professional editor). I won't dwell on the train journey to York (it took >7hours!) but thankfully I arrived in time for dinner and Friday Night Live. The weekend was a whirlwind of talks/workshops/1-2-1s and lots of socialising/networking with other writers. I did need several days on my own when I got back - just to quieten my head. I considered the cost and investment in my writing career and I think it has been worth it. It was lovely to catch up with some writing pals and also meet new friends too - some of whom I think will be the names of the future. The quality of speakers and workshops/panels etc were excellent. The accommodation was basic student rooms but you don't spend much time there anyway. I was impressed by the overall organisation, friendliness of the event and the food was pretty good considering there were >400 delegates. I took advantage of the free competitions running for the weekend and was delighted to be shortlisted (final 7) for the Best Opening Chapter competition, which got my name read out during the Gala Dinner on Saturday night.

Both events are expensive but the included 1-2-1s are worth the cost - a 10-15 min opportunity to get face-to-face feedback on your writing from industry experts. These offer the chance to meet agents, making it so much easier to then approach by email or sidle up to them in the buffet/bar queue. Also look out for Early Bird Rates. When registration opens for FoW there is usually a short period when you can get a 20% discount.

What I gained from these events
I pitched two novels: literary and crime mystery at 1-2-1s at both these events. Discussing my literary novel with a book doctor I realised it is probably time to 'rest' it from the submission carousel. The editor was enthusiastic about my writing (immersive and transports the reader), she 'got' it and my aims, but suggested it was unlikely to attract an agent seeking a commercial debut because it's just too gentle and quiet. This matched much of the feedback I'd been getting from agents. From the annotations on my extract I also realised what to expect when working with a professional editor.  I thought I'd sent her a near perfect, polished piece and yet she'd commented on several areas on page 1 alone. Scary.

The crime novel has been a delight to write, almost fun (if you can ever call writing fun) and a different experience for me as I purposely set out to write a more commercial novel. Over the spring and summer I've pitched this novel to a number of agents and to date every one has asked to read the finished manuscript. That's a 100% hit rate. Tweeting about how the novel also attracted attention and I was approached directly by an agent who after reading the opening has called in the whole manuscript. So you can see why I'm turning to crime ...

What do you think about writing conferences? Have you found them useful / value for money? Let me know what you think.

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