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, 28 November 2012

Patsy Collins: It's FREE now

Patsy Collins' excellent read Escape to the Country is FREE to download today (Wed 28 Nov) and tomorrow (Thurs 29 Nov). Click the link below to access this brilliant offer.

Patsy Collins: It's FREE now

Monday, 19 November 2012

How to be an effective editor with Sarah Higbee

Sarah Higbee is the Deputy Chair of West Sussex Writers and teaches Creative Writing at Northbrook College (Wothing). Her enthusiasm for guiding writers to improve their writing engulfed the audience of West Sussex Writers on 8 November at our monthly gathering. Sarah was keen to share her top tips for avoiding the dreaded slush pile. Even the brightest and shiniest ideas need polishing to catch an editor’s eye. On finishing a piece of work Sarah advised to first leave it alone:
  •          Short story / poem for a week
  •          Novel for 1-2 months

Get some distance before you start editing. And then slice up your editing into manageable chunks, so you can focus on different topics at each review. Sarah recommended using a checklist and then she shared her particular list:
1.       Structure: check there is a story arc; does the character have a journey?
2.       Strong beginning.
3.       Sufficient conflict.
4.       Subplots and minor characters: are they all needed?
5.       Strong climax: the moment in the story when everything changes i.e. the ‘tipping point’.
6.       Viewpoint: is this consistent throughout story?
7.       Dialogue: read aloud to check authenticity. Consistency of representation for external / internal     dialogue.
8.       Scene setting and description.
9.       Check for time anomalies.
10.    Writing style: know what your ‘wicked’ words are and get rid! (These are adverbs for the Indoor Writer or just and so). Look out for overuse of adverbs / adjectives and use effective verbs instead.
11.    Punctuation: accuracy and consistency.
12.    Consistent tense.

The Indoor Writer often reads aloud her work (scary!) but I'm going to share this top tip with her:
first turn a word file into a PDF file using Adobe, then go to View, click Read Out Loud option and click Activate. This allows you to listen to your story, while still following the manuscript. Sarah recommends this for picking up all the small errors and typos that can be easily missed.

Sarah emphasised the importance of always reading the publisher/agent’s submission guidelines before submitting any work. Some magazines/publishers have house styles for presentation and punctuation (particularly for dialogue) so always check these first. 

You can learn more about Sarah Higbee and her own writing at her website here.
And if you are interested in coming to a meeting of West Sussex Writers then check out the future programme (and how to join) here.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Short Story Writers

Day 5 of National Short Story week and I wanted to share my favourite authors of short stories. Here goes...(in no particular order)

Elizabeth Taylor - have recently acquired the new complete collection of her short stories and can't wait to tuck in.

Raymond Carver - master of terse prose, but I learned recently that his work may have been heavily edited. Will be looking into this and further post coming...

Penelope Lively - queen of the short story in my opinion. Her stories linger long after reading and often deliver shocking surprises. Her collection 'Pack of cards' contains one of the most disturbing ghost stories I've ever read.

Kate Atkinson - have only found one collection 'Not the end of the world', which is great fun and packs an emotional punch in many of the stories.

Patrick Gale - have not yet read any of his novels but loved his two collections of short stories 'Gentleman's Relish' and 'Dangerous Pleasures'

Alice Munro - what can you say about Alice other than pure genius. Apparently she is still writing (now in her 80's) and a new collection recently released.

Helen Simpson - wonderful mixture of stories often funny or terribly sad.

Nicholas Royle - not for the easily shocked, but the most creative short story writer I've read.

Tessa Hadley - a real advocate for the short story (see earlier post on Tessa's Masterclass)

John Burnside - his stories linger for sometime.

Katherine Mansfield - have only read a couple of stories and must get hold of a collection.

Anthologies are a good way to sample lots of writers in one hit. I've really enjoyed the Penguin collections of Modern Women's Short Stories (vol I and II edited by Susan Hill).

There are many more writers to sample, but always so little time...sigh. Please share your favourites...

ChocLit Competition Success

I'm letting the Indoor Writer have some blog space in the hope she will stop going on about this... Yesterday she learned her story 'Phoenix and Marilyn' won the ChocLit Summer Short Story Competition. It's a good prize and rumour has it she's also won chocolate (another reason for giving her airspace...). You can read the winning story here. It's a bit soppy, but hopefully is a story with a heart. Shows she's just an old romantic underneath all that literary pretense.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Easy on the ear

If you write short stories then you probably love reading them, but do you also listen to them? The Indoor Writer recently blogged about recording a short story for The Voice of Progress, a local talking newspaper. Helen Yendall is the World Audio Short Story Writer and has her winning story available to listen here. The Short Story Radio states its aim is "is to promote the short story form and short story writers, and to broadcast quality recordings of short stories via the website and podcasts". You can listen to more short stories online, penned by many excellent writers, on the Short Story Radio website, click here for a list of stories.

As part of National Short Story Week some Radio stations are broadcasting stories, read more here. They also have several stories available to listen online here (linked with Short Story Radio).

Radio 4 (and Radio 4 Extra) still support audio short stories. An excellent competition Opening Lines has just opened for new writers and the winning stories will be recorded and aired on Radio 4, more details here. You can read previous winning stories to get a flavour of what they are looking for in a story suitable for radio.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Kite flying for short story writers

Day 3 of National Short Story Week and today I want to share some quotes on the theme of short stories. These are all thoughts, mainly by other writers, that I've recently read.

Firstly Tessa Hadley at the RSL Masterclass on the Short Story (full post here) described short stories as "word paintings", which I rather love as a succinct explanation of the genre.

Susan Hill in her introduction to the Second Penguin Book of Modern Women's Short Stories writes: "really excellent stories ... are rare and precious as jewels and dazzle with a similar brightness... They extend one's literary horizons, and deepen one's understanding of the human heart. They make an impact. They are memorable. There is nothing small-scale or miniature or trivial about them."

In Piers Plowright's write-up the 2012 VS Pritchett Prize award ceremony for the RSL Review 2012 he shares Sean O'Faolain's thoughts: "writing a short story is like getting a kite to catch the smallest breeze and fly." And how Adam Foulds described the process as: "going out for a walk on the spur of the moment."

I particularly admire the image of flying a kite, and can remember how difficult it is to get a kite to fly well and to keep it in the air. We used to go kite flying on Beachy Head (East Sussex), where the winds were a challenge!

Tomorrow I'll be highlighting some outlets for audio stories and on Friday sharing some of my favourite short story writers. And now I'm off to fly that kite...

Let me know who you admire as a writer of short stories and if you have any particular cherished stories.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Outlets for Short Stories

This week we're celebrating National Short Story Week and today why not check out the outlets for your short stories here. More details of writing competitions and top tips on writing short stories can also be found here.

The Indoor Writer has stories on Alfie Dog. You can download stories from 39p, so ideal for commuting or just sampling a writer's work. Three excellent stories to download here (someone has to do her PR!).

Another outlet for selling your stories is Ether Books, click here for more details. This site specialises in downloads to mobile phones, so ideal for reading 'on-the-go'.

If you write for the Womag market then check out the Womag Writer's Blog which regularly updates on new guidelines and any trends or news in the Womag market. Often lists some good competitions too.

If you know of any other outlets then let me know.

Keep writing...

Monday, 12 November 2012

Short Story Masterclass with Tessa Hadley

As part of National Short Story Week the Indoor Writer attended a Masterclass on the short story run by the RSL (Royal Society of Literature). The main attraction for attending was the facilitator Tessa Hadley, the author of Sunstroke (short story collection). Here the Indoor Writer shares her experience...

I must be dedicated to the craft of writing to spend over nine hours sitting on a train to travel to Cardiff and back for this Masterclass. When I first signed up I didn't note the location, assuming it would be held in London, and only later realised I needed to get from West Sussex to Cardiff for a 10.30am start at the central library on a Saturday morning (coinciding with the rugby too!). I let the train take the strain, but this meant an overnight stay to ensure I made the class on time. Thankfully I found myself amongst eight like-minded lovers of short fiction, soon immersed in discussing why we all wrote fiction and sharing our favourite short story authors. Surprisingly I was one of the few to have actually sold stories and been published, but others had novels or scripts published and sold.

This was not a 'how to' workshop, but more an appreciation of the genre. Tessa read out a very short story (<1000 words) The Family Meadow by John Updike, which we all dissected with gusto. We all agreed the opening lines of a short story foretell the mood of the piece and that endings have to be much more powerful than in a novel. Tessa urged us all to "read our own work as a reader. Try to read a story as if you've never read it before" and advised that "cutting is one of the best tools" for a writer to employ. Many of us were already editing and cutting chunks from our first drafts - paid up members of the splicing gang. I also liked her phrase "word painting" to describe the art of the short story.

Tessa got us working on several exercises, which we all freely read aloud and received very positive and constructive feedback from everyone. This was the most valuable part of the morning and encouraging to hear what others think and to collaborate our ideas. I think we all now have several new plotlines seeded, with helpful tips from Tessa on how to progress them. I liked the exercise of writing a motif for a story, a three line summary as follows:
Something is lost.
Every effort is made to recover it.
Something different is found.

This is a technique I will definitely use in future when considering plotlines to develop. And here's one I wrote earlier, the one I developed in the class:
A husband hires an au pair.
The wife believes the girl is taking over her life.
From outside the house the wife looks in, she has no reflection and the family are content without her.

Tessa suggested I end the story almost exactly as described above and this a piece I am keen to start writing.

The three hours passed all too quickly and I found myself squashed back on the train, but fired up to keep writing short stories. I now have a long list of short story writers to read, even though I believed I was pretty well read in the first place. I have some new friends and contacts from the class to keep in touch with. One of the major benefits of attending a short workshop or Masterclass is the people you meet. Writing can be a lonely business and networking becomes a vital lifeline. To date I've not yet met a writer I didn't like!

Finally Tessa Hadley signed my own, rather battered, copy of Sunstroke wishing me good luck with my own writing. In conclusion what better way to spend a morning than in the company of writers discussing short stories ... BLISS.

RSL runs regularly events and Masterclasses, click here for upcoming list (sadly the evening on 28 November with Margaret Atwood is already fully booked)

Tessa Hadly lives in Cardiff and teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University. Published novels are:

Accidents in the home
Everything will be all right
The Master Bedroom
The London Train
Clever girl (to be published May 2013)

Friday, 9 November 2012

National Short Story Week: 12 - 18 November

Are you doing anything for National Short Story Week or attending any events? This year it runs from Monday 12th November to Sunday 18th. You can read all about the week and planned events here .

I'm really pleased to see the focus on listening to short stories, more details here, as this can be an excellent medium to enjoy this genre. My Grandad lost his sight late in life audio books and books for the blind became very important to him. So I was really excited to have recorded one of my short stories especially for The Voice of Progress, a locally produced talking newspaper. 'A Waste of Time' will also be available to listen online next week through the charity's website. Warning: you do have to listen my voice and not that of an actor - it was fun to record though. Top tips for reading aloud and recording short stories: read off a screen, or put your pages in slippery fish to avoid extreme paper noises! I had to read through the story several times, because my paper rustling was too loud.

Let me know if you have any plans for the week. The interest in short stories is growing and it's good to see an emphasis on this genre of writing.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Slipstream Poets Open Poetry Competition 2013

First Monday of the month the Indoor Writer has been slipping out to join a poetry group. Each month they focus on a topic, read associated poems, discuss, and also try some free writing. She doesn't describe herself as a poet, but loves to read and listen to poetry and occasional dabbles in writing some herself.

For a small group the Slipstream Poets run a BIG annual competition. They have just opened the 2013 competition and for more details click here.

  • Closing date 31 January 2013
  • Open theme
  • 1st prize £250, 2nd £100, 3rd £75 and 2 highly commended prizes of £10, plus publication on the website by end March 2013
  • Adjdicator is Roselle Angwin
  • Poems must not exceed 60 lines and not be previously published or posted on the internet
  • Entrance fee: £3 per poem, 4 for £10, 6 for £12
  • All West Sussex poets are also judged by Paul Ward for best poem in West Sussex category. Prize is £25 and The Jim Johnston 'Chanctonbury Cup'.
You can read 2012 winning poems here. We particularly loved The Ice Storm (2012 winner), a very visual and haunting poem.