Saturday, 28 August 2010

Judge's Critique for Featherweight

In the interests of making this blog as informative as possible, Linda Lewis has kindly agreed to let me publish the critique she gave me for my story Featherweight. I've appended it to the story here on my blog.

In some ways, the critique is less helpful because the story did well in the competition - I suppose it would be a bit strange if Linda had presented me with a long list of suggestions to improve it! However, hopefully publishing her response here will be useful to anybody who is entering Linda's next competition and is considering paying for a critique (always a tough decision when you don't have a clue what you're getting for your money).

I found Linda's take on my story to be very encouraging and perceptive. It's good to see that she's picked up on just about everything I was hoping to get across in the story. And it sounds like I only missed out on the top spot by a whisker, which is good (if a little frustrating!).

Incidentally, the winning story is now posted on the Catherine Howard website.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hard to Swallow?

My humorous story / restaurant review, "Xtcokpøt", has gone live today on Defenestration. They even let me cartoon myself for my biog pic:

I'm very pleased and proud that I've been able to place this piece. Firstly, although I try to make sure there's at least a sliver of humour in most of what I write, I don't tend to write a lot of stuff that's supposed to be out-and-out funny, so it's reassuring to know it's something I can 'do'. Secondly, humour is such a subjective thing that it's a real boost to have an editor take a look at something and say, "Yeah, that's funny." Hopefully their readers agree.

Thirdly, Defenestration is a great site. It doesn't pay, but when you look at it the site is obviously put together with a huge amount of care and attention. It's a good home for any piece of writing, and I'll certainly be sending them more stuff in the future. Plus, it's got great cartoons. I still think Sodabot is a work of genius, although in terms of titles alone, The Impending Ingestion of Mr. Snugglesbee takes some beating.

One thing that I found strange when I was looking for places to send Xtcokpot, was how little demand there seems to be for humorous prose. I mean, everyone likes a laugh, don't they? So why are there so few paying markets for chuckle-tastic writings? Very strange.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

'Featherweight' Scoops Second Place in Catherine Howard Competition

Just a quick note to say that my story, "Featherweight", was awarded second prize in the inaugural Catherine Howard Short Story Competition.

I'm very pleased about this - it's a story I'm particularly attached to, but one that has been difficult to find a home for. It's an awkward, between-genres kind of subject, and at approximately 4,000 words is a tricky length, being too long for many competitions but not long enough to be a serial in a magazine. I've had a lot of faith in it, though, so it's great to finally get some recognition (especially as it was up against 128 other entries).

Due to space restrictions, Linda (who runs the C.H. competition) won't be putting the story on her website, so instead I have set it up as a separate page here: Featherweight. I appreciate 4,000 words is a bit of a stretch to read on-screen, so if you want it as a printable PDF, please get in touch and I'll be happy to oblige. I hope you enjoy the story.

Linda plans to run another competition this autumn/winter - details are on her site.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Momentum and research, but not necessarily in that order

I thought it was about time I actually wrote something about writing. This past week or so has been quite productive for me; I've finally swept aside the dust and cobwebs and got back to working on my novel. The reasons it has languished untouched for the last eight months are many, but as you can imagine going back to something after such a long time is not a task to be taken lightly. I was beginning to think that having taken more than half a year off, I would find it was no longer a story I was interested in telling, or that the characters were boring, or that I'd find so many inconsistencies in the style I'd get overwhelmed with it and just bin the whole thing.

Well, I did get a bit overwhelmed with it. It is, after all, 82,000 words I wrote between 2007 and 2009, in various bursts of activity and with various underlying aims and ideas regarding what the story was actually about. It is, in places, a tangled mess with more ideas than structure, and there are characters in key scenes early in the book who I replaced with other characters later on, and I'm not sure what to do about it. Plus it doesn't help that I didn't actually finish the first draft before I 'parked' it, so - having decided that the whole thing should have been written in first- rather than third-person perspective - as I start waaaaay back at the beginning, I don't even have the satisfaction of knowing I've already written "THE END".

But, despite having a small and temporary freak-out at the enormity of the task I'm inflicting upon myself, the important stuff (Do I still like the characters? Yes. Do I still "believe" in the story? Yes. Do I still feel a blast of excitement from imagining myself at the other end of the process, clutching a completed manuscript in my sweaty little paws and working my way through the Artist's & Writer's Handbook, sending it off to publishers? Hell, yes!) is all in place. So, it's good, and having had a couple of days where I've knocked out 2,000 words or so at a time - some new, some edited - it feels like I stand a decent chance of getting some momentum behind the project and, this time, getting all the way to the end.

One of the events that gave me a proverbial kick up the arse book-wise was a friend of mine inviting me on a tour of Birmingham airport. The relevance of this is that the opening scenes of my book take place in a teleport hub, which as far as my story is concerned is the futuristic equivalent of an airport. Looking around the place, without the stress and boredom involved of actually having to travel anywhere, helped me see elements that I had missed from my first draft - things that were not exactly crucial to the story but that help put meat on the bones of the idea. I hadn't considered at all, for instance, how a family with a young child would travel via this new technology. The result is that I have had to do a bit more thinking, and although the solution I came up with gets no more than a passing mention, I think it helps make the scene more authentic.

Authenticity is what good fiction is all about, I reckon - you have to convince your reader that all this stuff actually happened, no matter how strange and far-fetched it all gets. If you can throw in elements that make perfect sense but that the reader wouldn't necessarily have thought of, then that helps to prove that you know what you're talking about, and the reader is more willing to follow the trail of fictitious breadcrumbs you're leaving.

... And that's when you've got them right where you want them.