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

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 ...

Monday, 21 March 2016

What's your brand?

I recently spent a terrific day out in Brighton at the first Beach Hut Writing Academy's Write by the Beach event. The sun shone and the event was hosted in a gorgeous Regency building, Angel House,
on the promenade. Sometimes it's good to escape the writing cave and spend a day with other human beings, if they're also writers and you can learn stuff then all the better. One of the recurring themes that came up in several talks was branding.
The first speaker was the excellent Simon Toyne, energetic and enthused he certainly woke us up. Simon is a bestselling Brighton author (read more here) who knows the value of great storytelling. He believes every writer should ask: what is your brand? This is partly knowing your genre, but also your point of difference - your unique skill and experience to tell your story. I never dreamed that Tescos is the biggest volume seller of books. A book's cover is critical to brand recognition in a supermarket outlet.
Brand recognition can be:
A big name author
Cover / Title
The shout or tag line
Blurb inside the flap
First line

Any writer seeking an agent or publisher for their novel knows to prepare an elevator pitch. The snappy couple of lines that will sell your novel. Simon also recommended we have a 'shout line' ready - this suggests the story but doesn't tell it. Ask a question which the reader has to read the book to learn the answer, keep it short and simple. His example came from the first book of his new series: Solomon Creed.

How do you save someone who is already dead?
I went with Wendy Clarke and met several of her RNA writing chums - all very friendly and keen to talk about writing projects. But when asked 'what do you write?' I stumbled and mumbled, staring at my feet. Why? Because I couldn't immediately settle on an answer. I don't write romantic fiction, so can't call myself a romance writer. OK, but what could I call myself, what is my brand? I have several projects in progress: subbing an upmarket fiction novel to agents/publishers, writing a second novel (crime), writing literary short stories and collating a short story collection and also collaborating with a poet/illustrator friend to create a children's picture book (fairy tale). I settled on answering with: literary fiction ... this can kill a conversation dead, but thankfully I was still welcomed and nobody ran for the exit.
So, I need to work on my branding or at least be clear of my brand for a particular event or audience.
Do you think a writer needs branding? What's your brand? Or do you have several?

Monday, 14 March 2016

One down for Operation Agent

Operation Agent is a success ... my good friend and writing buddy, Wendy Clarke, recently announced the fabulous news that she has signed with literary agent, Eve White, of Eve White Literary Agency, which makes it seem doubly real.
Finding an agent was one of Wendy's ambitions for 2016 so she's well on the way to having a very successful year. Her profile is now up on Eve's website here.

As you can LitPig is pretty chuffed about Wendy's news (I've always thought he has a little piggy crush on our Wendy) and is ready to celebrate in style. Please raise a glass to my talented friend. Her success is well deserved and there can only be more to come ... which happily means even more opportunities to celebrate!

You can also read Wendy's inspirational blog post (here) about how one of her writing dreams came true when she found her agent.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Head space

One of my best thumbed writing guides is Simon Whaley's The Positively Productive Writer packed with top tips and sensible advice on How to Reject Rejection and Enjoy Positive Steps to Publication. Simon also writes regularly for Writing Magazine and his feature Productivity Leap in the February issue really resonated with me. He quotes from author David Allen's bestselling book Getting Things Done: How To Achieve Stress-free Productivity and I picked up how  one of the biggest blocks to writing is overloading our brains with too much information. Simon writes: 'Our brain is not designed to be a filing cabinet. It quickly becomes cluttered and confusion sets in.' He then goes on to advise: 'Clear the brain of the clutter and you give it the space in which to be creative, and therefore more productive.'

Six years ago my head was chock full of clutter, work clutter, and I wasn't writing anything because there simply wasn't any room in my head for creative thinking. I made a life changing decision to leave my job, end my twenty year career and become a stay-at-home mum. A wonderful side affect of this decision was that suddenly my head emptied of those buzzing, nagging thoughts that once clogged it (and kept me awake most nights). I began to daydream again. I had head space to think creatively and story ideas flooded in. That's when my writing career seriously began.

Six years on I'm still writing but I do need to consciously give myself head space to think creatively. My favourite day is Monday as I go for a lunchtime swim (1 hour) where I just allow my thoughts to wander. This is the time of the week when I can plot and plan out storylines. I've recently started working on a second novel and my weekly swim is the time when I work through what I'm going to write for the rest of the week. Walking and running also help, along with gardening and washing the dishes, as these activities all seem to clear head space giving me that valuable creative thinking time. But swimming is definitely the most productivity activity I can do to help kick start my writing each week.

What do you do to create head space? Please share your top tips?
As you can see LitPig highly recommends Simon Whaley's The Positively Productive Writer. If you haven't got a copy then do check it out.

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.