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

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Local inspiration

The second semester of my MA in Creative Writing is titled 'Source and Transformation'. We're working through fictional pieces which originated from other, usually factual, sources. An example is Tracy Chevalier's novel 'Girl with a pearl earring' which arose out of Chevalier's fascination for the famous Vermeer painting. She delved into the life and times of Vermeer and out of her research evolved the wonderful novel. (If you haven't read it then do try. Her writing is beautifully subtle and understated -
rather like Vermeer's paintings. Reading the novel is like being immersed into one of his masterpieces. The film with Scarlett Johannson and Colin Firth is worth a look too - sticks mostly to the book and captures the atmosphere of both the novel and the historical period.) We've covered 'Girl with a pearl earring' in the MA along with Michael Cunningham's tribute to Virginia Wool 'The Hours'. We'll also be looking at both historical and art sources for fiction, as well myths and legends.

Now every story I've ever written has been triggered by some fact I've read or discovered on TV/radio/film etc. I'm often stimulated by fairytales, myths, legends and Old Wives' Tales. So this module should be a doddle. You'd think! But I'm struggling to find a topic that I haven't explored before. I want to write a longer short story on a theme I've not used before. And I'm struggling for inspiration ...

I drive past the Steyning Musuem at least once a week but have never ventured inside until today. I had half an hour before my dance class started and took the opportunity to wander around the exhibits. As I scribbled away in my notebook one of the on-hand volunteers enquired about my interests and we had a stimulating chat about some of the things that had caught my eye. I will be returning to explore some ideas further as a number of interesting local stories intrigued me.

During Queen Mary's reign (Bloody Mary) 3 men were burned as Protestant heretics and one man, John Launder, was burned at Steyning (on Chantry Green) - as the town was a spot in mid-Sussex chosen to be used as a warning to others. Hmm, perhaps it still is a hotbed of heretics? I know quite a few writers live there... The town dates to pre-Saxon times and was where St Cutham built his church over 1300 years ago. Apparently he pushed his mother in a cart (or wheel-barrel) over the downs (we don't know why) and finally came to stop in Steyning - well it does have several nice teashops ...

If you're in need of inspiration for your fiction then why not visit your local museum. They often mount exhibitions with a local slant and many are focusing on the Great War this year. There are kept alive by volunteers who are always keen to talk with anyone who shows an interest. I quickly confessed to being a writer, but you don't have to - unless like me you express an interest in the more macabre exhibits ...

Keep Writing. And please share where or how you get inspired ...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A fairytale ending

The Indoor Writer is enjoying a double celebration this week:
Handing in semester 1 module for the MA in Creative Writing
Taking 2nd prize in the HE Bates short story competition

You can read her story 'Ancient Wing' here and the winning story by Anne Corlet - a wonderful piece which resonates with the truth of what makes a long-term relationship work (even in space!). Della Galton was the Head Judge for the competition and you can read her write-up of the winning stories here. Della also has an interesting post from HE Bates competition chair, Morgen Bailey, with some sensible advice on entering writing competitions, click here to read.

If you want to know the inspiration behind the story, then read on:

Ancient Wing is a modern re-telling of an Anglo Saxon myth, the story of the swan maiden, Olrun, and Aegl the archer. The swan maidens appear in other European legends, including the Norse Valkyries, so the story seems to resonate across many cultures. As a child one of my most beloved books was a beautifully illustrated fairytale telling once again the legend of the swan maidens.

For some time I had the title 'Ancient Wing' whirling round my head, but without a story to hang it on. On a seafront run I felt the urge to hold out my arms, as if I were launching myself over the sea. This prompted a thought about the Worthing Birdman competition, which runs every August off the end of the pier and suddenly I had a story about Irena leaping off the pier to re-join her swan sisters.

In chatting with my writing buddy, Wendy Clarke, it turned out her daughter had actually taken part in the annual Birdman competition and jumped off the pier dressed as a phoenix. I can't remember if she'd told me this before I wrote Ancient Wing or not, whatever the timeline it's evidence of synchronicity in action. The photographs on this post are provided by kind permission of Wendy. Above right is her daughter, the Phoenix, about to fly off the pier. The other two photos are the Phoenix before (right) and then after the event (below left) - doesn't she look happy? Makes you wonder if we should all have a go ...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Everybody's at it!

Everybody's at it, including my writing chum, Wendy. Goal setting! After starting the new diet we're all ready to set down what we want to achieve for the year. Last week I met up with Wendy for teacakes, writerly chat and to test out my writing plans for 2014. The incredibly disciplined Wendy has already posted her goals here and now it's my turn. But first I wanted to analyse what went well in 2013 and more importantly what didn't ...

Publications:  20 (includes fiction & articles/fillers/letters)
Won - 4
Runner-up - 4
Shortlist/Longlist - 21
Total entered = 87
Overall hit rate = 33 %
The wins have covered the competition entry costs but I'm not impressed with the success rate.

On closer analysis I found drama was proving far more successful than fiction. I entered one radio play competition and won, so 100% hit rate! And with stage plays the hit rate was 40%, with one win and a longlisting. Hmm, this could mean something ... though of course I entered only a small number of drama competitions.
Womens magazines:
13 rejections
1 awaiting feedback
1 awaiting feedback post some re-writes - still hopeful of a sale.

Clearly I am NOT a successful writer of womag stories. This is one area of writing I may just give up on. But the payment from some mags is sooo tempting ...

After the analysis and the teacakes here's what I've agreed with Wendy (and we plan a monthly review of our progress, which of course is NOT an opportunity to gas about writing and chomp even more cakes). To help the process I've bought a pack of coloured stars to stick above my desk displaying the goals and I also plan to stick up any successes on the whiteboard too - well it all helps!


1. Progress the novel and have first draft completed by end of the year. (10,000 words written to date)
Monthly target: 5,000 words or one chapter

2. Significantly reduce number of competitions. Focus on the larger competitions with new stories - aiming to build a portfolio of longer stories. Enter more FREE competitions wherever possible.

3. Write more drama. Both for stage and radio. Enter the West Sussex Writers' Screenplay competition to learn more about writing screenplays (sorry - you have to be a member of WSW to enter this!)

If the above are going well ...
4. Publish prize-winning short and flash fiction stories in a collection.

Of course I'm still focused on the MA and have to build in my submissions for each semester. I'm planning a long short story for Semester 2 (starting next week), so that contributes to goal number 2.

In summary I want to continue to explore dramatic writing and try new genres. I would like to experiment more with flash fiction and push my writing boundaries as far I can and just keep improving the quality of what I submit.

Now where did LitPig stash my pile of coloured stars?

Have you set any writing goals for 2014? What do you hope to achieve?