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

Saturday 31 December 2011

Analyse your successes

On the last day of 2011 you're probably pondering your resolutions for 2012.  It's a good idea to set some clear targets and goals for what you want to achieve with your writing... and WRITE them down.  If you write down your goals then:
  1. There's little excuse for forgetting them.
  2. You are more likely to focus on achieving goals which have been carved in ink.
  3. Ticking them off once achieved is the BEST BIT.
But before you charge off and list pages and pages of wonderful goals it may help to dissect what happened in 2011.  It's human nature (or so I've been told) to focus on what went wrong - your  FAILURES.  Yet it can be even more valuable to assess what went right - your SUCCESSES.  Try and analyse:
  1. What stories sold or did well in competitions - what themes, which magazines & competitions?
  2. Where did your pitches get a good reception?
  3. What themes/concepts were successful for your features/articles?
The indoor writer did all of them above - she listens to me - and found some interesting facts:

  • Only wrote one article in 2011 (was concentrating on fiction).  Although it was instantly rejected by The Lady (the fastest rejection ever) the same piece later won a non-fiction article competition and earned its keep.  
  • Second pitch to another magazine was successful (should come out 2012).
Conclusion:  Put more effort into pitching features.  Look for ideas - EVERYWHERE.
Goal for 2012: Pitch at least one feature a month.

  • Flash fiction stories had greater success in competitions.
  • Comic themed short stories did well in competitions.
  • Did well in competitions which were specifically targeted i.e. researched previous winners, what judges liked, what did well, wrote new stories. 
Conclusion:  Flash fiction stories tended to be comic in tone - so write more comic pieces.  Continue to target competitions and always write NEW pieces for these.  
Goal for 2012: Target new competitions.  Enter up to 4 a month - write new stories whenever possible.

Phew, I think that's enough for now.  The indoor writer used to be a Team Manager so she can go on a bit about goal setting.  I'm signing off now before she starts on SMART objectives ... OINK!

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 7

On the 7th day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...



Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
July 2011:
ANITA SHREVE - Light on Snow
Anita's exquisite prose is mesmerising - the quality of her writing is something we all should aspire to.  This is a gentle story of a father and daughter who find a baby in the snow.  The baby's mother arrives into their lives and slowly the history of all the three main characters unfolds.  This is told from the 13 year-old girls viewpoint and is sometimes painfully sad, yet still ends on a hopeful note.  You really do feel you are immersed in a North American winter.  A truly beautiful book.

Other novels by Anita Shreve:

Past the island, Drifting(1975)

Eden Close(1989)
Strange fits of passion(1991)
Where or when(1993)
Resistance (1995)
The weight of water (1997)
The pilot’s wife(1998)
Fortune’s rock (1999)
The last time they met (2001)
Sea glass (2002)
All he ever wanted (2003)
Light on snow (2004)
A wedding in December (2005)
Body surfing (2007)
A Change in Altitude (2009)
Rescue (2010)

Friday 30 December 2011

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 6

On the 6th day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...


Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
June 2011:
This is marketed as a modern gothic novel and it really does what it says on the cover.  Again another past paced novel targeted for the Young Adult market but equally appealing to adults.  The chapters are very short, couple of pages maximum, and encourage you to keep reading. You know it will all end tragically, but there is a clever twist and he keeps you mesmerised to the very end.  This tells of the dysfunctional relationship between two girls in a gloomy seaside town.  It's based on a real village, which is slowly inch by inch falling into the sea and weaves in the gruesome story (again based on fact) of a nineteenth century clergyman who sought to determine if there is life after death.  His methods of research leave a lot to be desired - I'm not giving anything of the plot away so you'll have to go and read it for yourself...

Another great book by Marcus is 'The Foreshadowing'.  Written in the first person this story is told by a teenage girl living through the Great War.   Her life is complicated by her special talent, she has visions. The narrative and plot draw you in - another can't put down - and intriguingly the chapter numbers count backwards until the twist ending.  A very satisfactory read.  

Other novels by Marcus Sedgwick:
Floodland (2000)

The dark horse(2001)
Witch hill (2001)
The book of dead days (2003)
A christmas wish (2003)
Cowards (2003)
The dark flight down (2005)
The foreshadowing (2005)
My swordhand is singing (2006)
Blood red, snow white (2007)
The kiss of death (2008)
Revolver (2009)
White crow (2010)
Midwinterblood (2011)

Thursday 29 December 2011

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 5

On the 5th day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...


Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
April 2011:
I learned of Helen Dunmore from Jo Derrick's blog / website for The Yellow Room Magazine, as well as numerous other excellent women writers.  'The Siege' relives the siege of Leningrad (during WW2) through the lives of ordinary Russians.  I found Helen's prose simply exquisite, and many lines read like poetry.  I don't have a copy as this was borrowed from the library and wish I'd noted some of her most beautiful passages.  The hardships of the siege are realistically portrayed - there is very little romance in this novel even though it is a love story.  The sequel is 'The Betrayal' and one book on the list to read in 2012.
I also read her short story collection 'Ice Cream', which was a tasty mixture of humour and pathos.  Highly recommended.  

Other novels by Helen Dunmore:

Zennor in Darkness (1994)

Burning Bright (1994)
A spell of winter (1996)
Talking to the Dead (1996)
Your Blue-Eyed Boy (1998)
With your Crooked Heart (1999)
The Siege (2001) 
Mourning Ruby (2003)
House of Orphans (2006)
Counting the Stars (2008)
The Betrayal (2010)

Short story collections:
Love of Fat Men (1997)
Ice Cream (2001)
Rose, 1944 (2005)

Wednesday 28 December 2011

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 4

On the 4th day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...


Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
April 2011:
ALI SPARKES - Frozen in Time
In March as the indoor writer was finishing the first draft of her children's novel I discovered the excellent Ali Sparkes, also writing for 9+ age group.  'Frozen in Time' was voted Blue Peter Book of the Year for 2010 by the programme's viewers and is a fast paced 'super' read.  Ali clearly confesses this book as a homage to Enid Blyton, and though it does have many references to that style of writing and the 1950's it is definitely a modern children's book.  The premise is two children were frozen in the 1950's and accidentally thawed back to life in the present day.  The delight for an adult reader are the nostalgic references and the hilarious attempts of the children adjusting to the modern world - a landscape where their 1950's sensibilities and mode of speech mark them as the aliens.

I also went on to read: Finding the Fox (Shapeshifter 1) and Wishful Thinking.  Both page turners and fun stories.  Ali mixes humour with the genuine emotions & events experienced by children (grief, exclusion, parents divorce etc) and so far I've found her  books all accessible.  Much more fun than adult novels!

Other books by Ali Sparkes:
Miganium (a prequel to The Shapeshifter), Dark Summer, Frozen in time, Wishful thinking, the  Monster Makers series, S.W.I.T.CH. series, The Shapeshifter series

Tuesday 27 December 2011

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 3

On the 3rd day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...



Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
March 2011:
SUSAN HILL - The Small Hand
I read this ghost novella in almost one sitting.  The prose is elegantly simple, crisp and precise.  The atmosphere builds to a revelation ending, which though not traditionally scary leaves a chilly aftertaste.  I was stirred to read more of her ghost stories: The Man in the Picture, The Woman in Black (don't read this at night).  And plan to continue reading Susan Hill as I adore her succinct narrative style.  Many of her novellas are written in the first person and they read as if someone is right there telling you the tale.  The Woman in Black reads just like a nineteenth century novel, which takes great skill to pull off.  I'd seen a stage version and several TV versions of this book and had always assumed it had been written at the time of its setting, so was surprised to learn it was a relatively modern book.

Other novels by Susan Hill:

 The enclosure (1961) •  Do me a favour (1963) • Gentleman and ladies (1968) • A change for the better (1969) • I'm the king of the castle (1970) • Strange meeting (1971) •  The bird of night (1972) • In he springtime of the year (1973) •  The woman in black (1983) •  Air and angels (1991) • The mist in the mirror (1992) •   Mrs de Winter (1993) • The service of clouds (1997) • Corruption • The Going Down of the Sun •  The man in the picture (2007) • The Beacon (2008) • The Small Hand (2010)

Simon Serrailler crime novels:
The various haunts of men (2004) • The pure in heart (2005) • The risk of darkness (2006) • The vows of silence (2008) • Shadows in the Streets (2010) • The Betrayal of Trust (2011)

Short story anthologies:
 The albatross and other stories (1970) •  A bit of singing and dancing (1973) • Listening to the Orchestra (1997) •  The boy who taught the beekeeper to read (2003)

Monday 26 December 2011

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 2

On the 2nd day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...


Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
February 2011:
PETER JAMES - Roy Grace series of detective novels
I started with Dead Tomorrow - picking this from the local village library - which isn't the first in the series.  Immediately I was hooked, perhaps because the location and settings were so familiar to me.  The finale of the book takes place at Manor house on the South Downs, which is literally 5 mins from us!  And of course Peter James famously lives in West Sussex, near Brighton, so knows the county well.   I can vouch that his locations are genuine, even down to the roundabouts and junctions he recalls during car chases!  
You don't have to read these in order, though there is a clear timeline running through the series, and I found it easy to catch up on the characters and history.  Yes, these crime thrillers do follow a formula but the writing is intoxicating.  The chapters are short and well paced so you simply fly through the novels, even though they are usually over 400 pages long.
WARNING: these books are addictive ... one is never enough.

Other titles in the Roy Grace series are:

  • Dead Simple (2005)
  • Looking Good Dead (2006)
  • Not Dead Enough (2007)
  • Dead Man's Footsteps (2008)
  • Dead Tomorrow (2009)
  • Dead Like You (2010)
  • Dead Man's Grip (2011)

Sunday 25 December 2011

12 Days of a LitPig Christmas: 1

On the 1st day of Christmas my LitPig brought to me ...


Each day I want to share the writing of an author that I read for the first time in 2011.   These are my personal choices - you may know many of them, but perhaps one or two will be new to you ... So why not try a new author in 2012.  
January 2011:
'Room' was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker prize.  This is a Marmite book - you either LOVE it or HATE it.  I devoured this in four days, totally drawn into Jack's world and completely loved it.  The entire story is told by Jack, five years old, who is held captive along with his young mother.  He's never been outside the room he was born in.  The plotline closely resembles a rather famous true story from the US but becomes cleverly takes the reader far beyond a mere abduction tale and zooms in to focus on the psychological impact to Jack and his mother upon their release. 
The writing is fluid and pacey.  At times you do question the narrative voice - as Jack is an incredibly articulate five year old, but the story telling keeps you reading.  I did find the ending comes up very quick and this was a book I was sad to finish.

Future reading ... novels by Emma Donoghue:

  • Stir Fry (1994)
  • Hood  (1995)
  • Slammerkin (2000)
  • Life Mask (2004)
  • Landing (2007)
  • The Sealed Letter (2008)
  • Room (2010)
Short Story anthologies:
Kissing the Witch (1997)
The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002) - Have to read this just for the title alone!
Touchy Subjects (2006)

Thursday 22 December 2011

Where does the time go?

The indoor writer shares the scariest moment of her life:

Frozen in terror hubby and I stared at the alien creature we'd brought home.  On the opposite sofa we'd propped the car seat still containing our son.  He was sleeping.  The bundle was barely recognisable as a baby, outside it was snowing and we'd wrapped him up so well he looked like a miniature Michelin man with a tea cosy for a head.  While he slept all was normal, but when he woke what then?  As virgin parents we clung to each other and hoped that instinct would soon kick-in.  My hubby gripped my hand and whispered: "So what happens now?"

Sixteen years later, today my son is celebrating his birthday.  Later the house will abound with teenagers -  they're having a Skyrim challenge followed by takeout curry.

So where does the time go?  Still not sure we've figured out parenting, but so far it's been (mostly) fun and I'm proud to have such a loving, kind-hearted and generous son.

...Hmm ... so does this mean birthday cake ... do hope it's chocolate!

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The Woman in Black ghostly competition

The indoor writer always likes a challenge so has just submitted her video entry for the Woman in Black (new film coming out in January starring Daniel Radcliffe) ghost story competition.  The brief was to produce a video of a 2minute ghost story and upload to YouTube.  So here's a link to her entry:
Blue Screen
Written and read by Tracy Fells
Audio and visuals prepared by Robin Fells (the tame teenager)

She tells me that clear diction is important when reading a story, but she sounds soooo terribly English ...
And yes she cheated and ducked out of being filmed reading the story, WIMP!

Monday 19 December 2011

Stocking fillers for the writer in your family

If you don't fancy a LitPig in your stocking this Xmas then here's my top 7 stocking fillers for the writer in your family ...

If your writer enters competitions or is seeking income from their writing then a subscription to one of the major magazines could be a big hit.  Most of these offer their own regular competitions, plus competition listings and other sources to place your writing.  They usually contain informative features i.e. 'How to' topics, plus author profiles and interviews.  Most are welcome to pitches too for articles/features on writing topics.

Click on the links below for more details on how to subscribe to the following:
Writing Magazine: a monthly magazine available from newsagents or you can take up annual subscription at £44.00 or £9.99 for a quarterly direct debit.  Ideal for writers of both fiction and non-fiction, good section and regular competitions for poets too.

Writers' Forum: a monthly magazine available from newsagents or you can take up annual subscription at £36.00.  Again ideal for writers of both fiction and non-fiction.

Mslexia: Promoted as 'the magazine for women that write' - which gives you a big clue to its target audience!  Produced quarterly and only available by post - four issues for £20.76.  Runs its own competitions (for women only), has features on writing topics and features author interviews.  Lots of regular slots for submissions too.

A diary which can be dedicated solely to writing projects is an ideal present.  Many writers seem to be obsessive list makers so giving them a place to note their goals, targets and reminders could bring you lots of brownie points.  Mslexia is the only diary I've found designed especially for writers (though again this is targeted at women).  It can be purchased online at £12.99 (including p&p within UK).  Mslexia also offer some good combinations on diary + magazine subscriptions, click here for details.  I like this diary design where each week has a blank page, for your to-do-list, with the week to view opposite.  It also lists competitions, festivals and outlets for writing, submission tracking, plus other useful facts.  It also neatly fits into any bag.

3. BOOKS ... Eat, Shoots & Leaves
Okay, obvious really huh, as what writer doesn't read books.  But if you're not certain of their favourite genre then why not give a book about writing ... or even better a book devoted to punctuation.  My all-time favourite is 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' by Lynne Truss (Profile books).  Lynne professes to having a 'zero tolerance approach to punctuation' (don't you love her already).  This is one of the easiest, and oddly the funniest, guides to punctuation I've ever read.  It's a fun read even if you're not a writer simply because of Lynne's honest and readable style.

If possible do try and support any local bookseller - as they are fast becoming an endangered species.

If your writer already has a copy then why not buy them a desk-top calendar (365 days of top punctuation tips!), available online or from Calendar shops.

Your writer probably already has a notebook (stuffed into a pocket or bag), which they carry everywhere to capture that block-buster idea or overhead conversation.  But when you're on the move (the indoor writer gets her best ideas out walking/running) then it's not always possible to whip out the notebook ... so a dictaphone can be a handy asset to the writer's toolbox.  Digital dictaphones (battery operated) are easy to use and small enough to carry anywhere.

Not a present you'd immediately think of for a writer, but music and topical programmes (we're addicted to R4) can be wonderful right brain stimulants fueling ideas and plotlines.  A portable internet radio is ideal for the writer who moves around the house to write and think. We have a PURE radio (see photo on right), which is rechargeable and has internet access.  You can set up a favourites list and it has a wide selection of stations.  We loved the selection of SOUNDS, which can help to set the appropriate mood for your writing.  You can select a soundtrack from a long list such as birdsong, waterfalls, jungle, seaside, farmyard and my particular favourite the pig farm (very soothing).

6. PEN (A Really Nice One!)
The value of a good pen can never be underestimated.  Having a pen that writes easily and feels good in the hand can brighten a writers day (sad bunch aren't they?).  I particularly love my Parker gel (gel cartridges are easily replaced and come in blue/black/red).  Your writer may prefer an ink pen.  There are many outlets of course, but if you can do try support any local specialist shops selling paper, notebooks and pens.

No not a miniature Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, but mini hot water bottles.  If your writer is homebased during the day they're probably trying to keep warm in winter without blowing the fuel budget.  Thermal leggings, fluffy boots and fingerless gloves are abundant in our household and don't forget the immortal appeal of the HOT WATER BOTTLE.  Mini bottles, that fit snugly in the lap or on cold toes, are sold from all the major department stores, markets and online.  These come in some really pretty covers.  I have a fabulous spotty one (photo above) and spend many wintry hours resting my trotters on this.

Have yourselves a Very LitPig Christmas ...
And stay blogged in for the 12 days of LitPig Christmas, starting ... well on the first day of Christmas (25th December).  I'll be sharing 12 writers and their work, all of whom were new discoveries to me in 2011 - you may know all of them, but 1 or 2 may be new names for you to explore.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Snowball the Goldfinch

The indoor writer has begged me to put up this photo, taken on the bird feeders yesterday.  This is a new visitor to the garden: Snowball the Goldfinch (No, I didn't come up with the name!). Not an albino Goldfinch as it has other pigments and black eyes, so this is known as a leucitic Goldfinch.  One definition of leucism can be found here, but basically it's a reduction in pigmentation.  He's only just started visiting so we think he was blown in this week with the strong winds.  He's rather cute ... for a bird ...

Monday 12 December 2011

Have a go, you never know ...

My writing motto is always 'have a go'.  Even with the giant competitions like Bridport, Manchester and Fish (to name a few) if you have a suitable short story that meets the entry rules then why not have a go and submit it.  You can't win a competition if you don't enter - that's Litpig logic for you.  The same approach applies to other areas of writing, where any opportunity to become involved in a literary process could be embraced.  You never know where it may lead...

Over 6 months ago the indoor writer emailed Mslexia magazine (a quarterly publication primarily aimed at women writers, click here for more details) offering to join their Focus Group.  Didn't hear anything and assumed she hadn't been included.  Then last week was contacted and asked to participate in providing feedback for the new magazine layout - now has 2 copies to closely review and compare (old and new format).  OK - some work involved here without any income, but in the literary universe surely it all adds up (though I wonder who's counting).

Another opportunity to get involved is book reviews.  Sally Jenkins highlighted on a recent blog the Waterstones book review scheme.  If you have a Waterstones store loyalty card then you can sign up to receive and review books before publication.  You may not get picked but if lucky you get a free book (and who would turn that down) and your review published on the Waterstones website.  The indoor writer signed up for various new books, selecting several that fell into her normal reading list and also a couple that were outside her usual genres (good to challenge yourself).  A parcel arrived last week with the first book on the list - Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan (to be published Feb 2012) - showing that if you put your name in the hat there's a chance of being picked.  So now we have some reading to do and a book review to write, but any opportunity to write is an opportunity to be taken ...

Keep writing ...

Monday 5 December 2011

Beat the end of year budget - FREE entry competitions

As we sprint towards the end of 2011 you maybe diverting funds to other luxury items (brandy butter, mince pies and choccie logs) and have little left in the budget to pay for short story competition entry fees.  So here's my pre-Christmas LitPig helping trotter - a few last minute competitions with FREE entry.

In closing date order:
Spinetinglers Christmas Ghost Story:
We all love a ghost story at Christmas (think of the most famous ghost story of them all ... A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) so why not pen a spooky tale.  Click here for full details.

  • Story must have Christmas as a central theme and a ghostly or supernatural theme.
  • Max words = 5,000
  • Submit through site or email entry to lauren@spinetinglers.co.uk
  • Closing date MIDNIGHT 16 December 2011
  • Prizes are Winner - £100 + publication in anthology, 2nd - £50, 3/4/5 - £25
Woman in Black Ghost Story:
January 2012 sees the world premiere of the new film version of Susan Hill's fabulously spooky ghost story 'The Woman in Black'.  To celebrate the release a ghost story writing competition is open for free entry, but with a slight twist ...
Click here to hear more details from Daniel Radcliffe (starring in the new film)

  • You have to record your ghost story and upload onto YouTube.  Story must be no more than 2 mins in length.  (So not only do you have to write a spooky tale you also have to perform it! Not for the feint hearted this one.)
  • Closing date 20 December 2011
  • Winning story will be recorded by Daniel Radcliffe and available on the Woman in Black DVD.  Winning author also gets to attend film's world premiere in London in January 2012.
Five Stop Story Competition:
This site publishes short stories which can be read in five stops on the London underground.  Stories are published on the website and on their mobile app for iPhone and iPad.
Click here for full details of competition

  • December theme is 'dreams'.
  • Submit publishable and proof-readable stories 1,000-3,000 words in length
  • Stories can be fictional or based on true-events with a clear plot, not blog style stories
  • Winners, runner-ups and honorary mentions are published each month on the website and available on the mobile application for download.  
  • Closing date is 31 December 2011
  • Copyright remains with the writer
Quick Plug: The indoor writer has a story published under September: TEN GOOD REASONS and a further story will be published shortly under October: HURRICANE HARRY'S HEIR

And here's one to note for the New Year in that brand new Writer's Diary you're going to find in your Xmas stocking ...

Reader's Digest 100 Word Story Competition:

The Reader's Digest are running again their popular 100 word story competition, which has a tempting winning prize of £1000 (adult category).  Click here for full details.  For inspiration read on the website the excellent 100 word sagas penned by some very well known authors.

  • Submit a 100 word (exactly 100 words) story via email to theeditor@readersdigest.co.uk
  • Story must be unpublished and your own original work
  • Winner (adult category) receives £1000 and 2 runner-ups win £100 each
  • 3 categories: Adult, Schools: <12 years, 12-18 years
  • Stories will be published on magazine website
  • Closing date 31 January 2012
  • World copyright of story becomes property of Vivat Direct Ltd (Reader's Digest) 
If you want to check out the previous winners then click here.