Saturday 31 July 2010

The start of something big...

Okay. I've been wanting to blog about this for a while. And now it's turned out all not-quite-the-way-I-planned and I'm not entirely sure how to go about it. It's exciting and disappointing and scary and hugely inspiring all at the same time (for me at least).

Right, so, from the beginning: a while back (I think we're talking late April / early May) I got a phone call out of the blue telling me I had won the Chapter One International Short Story Competition. It took a long time for that to sink in. I still consider myself a relative newbie when it comes to writing at a 'competitive' level, so to have won something was pretty astonishing. What pushed it beyond pretty astonishing into the realms of downright unbelievable was that the Chapter One competition has a serious prize fund. I'm not going to specify the amount here but I have to be realistic and say I'm going to be incredibly fortunate if I ever again make that much money in one go from my writing.

I sent the contract back straight away and have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of that nice fat cheque ever since. Last night I got a call from Chapter One telling me that due to a technical glitch (actually it's more complex than that, but I can't go into detail about it), they will be paying me electronically, and in instalments. The first one of these arrived today.

So, it's good news - but the joy of the win is now somewhat diluted by the fact that it'll be a couple of months at least before the whole amount has transferred over to me. On the positive side, though, the little chunks arriving on a regular basis will be a great boost when I'm dealing with rejections from other markets or getting bogged down with the novel. Maybe it's a good thing - after all, it's best to eat a cake one slice at a time than to wolf down the whole thing in one and end up feeling nauseous. Ah, cake metaphors are my favourite.

The important thing that this development has reminded me about is how fantastic a feeling it is to be paid for something you've written. I know that sounds incredibly mercenary, but the truth is my ambition is to 'make it' (whatever 'it' is) as a writer. I don't claim to write for the sake of art. I'm definitely not the kind of writer who writes "for themselves" - I can tell myself stories in my head all day long; there'd be no need to write them down if I was the only audience I cared about. I write mainly to find some kind of connection to other people, and the best test of whether I've succeeded in that is finding somebody who will publish the story. Being paid for achieving that is the icing on the cake (hooray, more cake), and is the closest you can get to performing magic - you start with nothing, a blank page or screen, and pull ideas and words out of your head until you've made your best attempt at whatever it is you're trying to say. Then (once you've got that elusive acceptance) - hey presto! - all those words and grammar and stuff you got for free has magically become a pint of lager, or a CD, or a new printer, or a holiday or whatever level you've managed to place it at.

Somehow it makes the story more tangible, more solid. It's gone out into the world and become a thing - whether printed or published online or wherever - and that thing carries a weight and a value and you can hold it in your hand. And you can look at that thing and think I made this, with my mind. Nobody but me could have written that exact story.  And you can be proud of yourself, and eat some cake.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Win a cottage in North Wales!

Well, okay, not quite...

July seems to be a favourite month for competition organisers. Other than the Catherine Howard one, the Hay-on-Wye one, and the Seán Ó Faoláin one, several others are ending at the end of this month. The ever-generous Teresa Stenson has rounded up a few of them on her blog. I'm rapidly running out of viable stories and am wondering whether to hurriedly write some more, or take this as a sign that I have enough pieces "out there" and get on with my novel.

This is one that seems to have slipped beneath the radar of most of the competition websites that I look at - it's the Cinnamon Press 5th Birthday Competition. The prize is not a cottage in North Wales, but a place on a residential writing course that's held in one. There's not a huge amount of detail on the site, but I went on an Arvon course a few years ago, which was one of the most inspirational writing things I've ever done, and this sounds like it's in a very similar vein.

They're looking for stories of 2000 words or less, or a bunch of micro-fictions, or some poetry. The entry fee is £12 and the course usually costs £490. There are bundles of books for the runners-up.

Monday 19 July 2010

A Disturbing Trend

"Write what you know" is an oft-quoted maxim amongst fiction writers. If I'm writing what I know, it turns out I'm a fairly despicable chap. Although maybe that came across in my last post.

Greed takes centre stage in my entry for the Hay-on-Wye Short Story Competition, while the story I've sent to the Seán Ó Faoláin Competition revolves around deception and the wilful destruction of public property. In my defence, the theme for the Hay-on-Wye competition is "Avarice", so I didn't have a lot of choice in the matter.

Themed competitions are not something I tend to enter very often.  Either I look at the theme and find it terribly uninspiring, or I come up with something that seems like a good idea, but won't fit the maximum word count. This time, the combination of an Avarice theme and a competition hosted by Britain's favourite book town both appealed and provided me with an idea for a story.

Both of these competitions close at the end of July, so if you've got a story lying around (and that just happens to be about greed if you fancy the Hay one), or have the muse flowing through your fingertips at the moment, there's still time to send it off.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Greed 1 - Selfishness 0

Should you let people know about a writing competition you've entered?

After all, the more entries the organisers receive, the smaller your odds of winning*. On the flip side, the better-supported a competition is, the more likely it is to happen again next year (or next month, quarter, etc).

Some competitions further complicate things by linking the prizes to the number of entries. Hence the dilemma - if your story is good enough to claim the top prize, you want that to be as big as possible, so you want it to have tonnes of entries. But, uh-oh, here come those pesky self-doubt gremlins... Is your story really good enough to see off a hundred other stories? What about two hundred? A thousand? Yikes. Maybe you should just keep your mouth shut and hope for the best.

The Catherine Howard competition is one such competition. So, More cash or a better chance of winning? Greed or Selfishness?

Obviously, in this instance, Greed won. Catherine Howard is the pen name of Linda Lewis, who has a regular column in Writer's Forum magazine. This is (as far as I can tell) the first competition of this type she's run, and I think it deserves support. Not least for the fact that the winner's prize is at least £100, increasing if there are sufficient entries, with an additional £50 donated to a charity of the winner's choice. The charity angle is a nice touch.

Check it out, see if you have something suitable to send. It's postal entry only - get yours in by 31 July 2010.

Good luck!

* Well, sort of - more on that later.

Friday 9 July 2010

"Counterfeit Confetti" goes live on Fiction at Work...

My first piece on Fiction at Work went live today. Well, it actually went live a couple of days ago but there was a slight hitch with two versions of the final paragraph being published one after the other, which was a bit confusing, so I didn't link to it before now.

It was the first thing I've ever subbed to them, so I was very pleased they took it. It's also the first time I've been asked to alter anything - the original final paragraph introduced a much more cynical note to the story, and the editor at F@W asked if was okay if they left it off. That kind of left the end flapping in the breeze, so I rejigged the new final couple of sentences, and it was those that got repeated.

I wasn't sure about the changes at first, but I've grown to like the new ending. It makes it a bit more ethereal.

Oh, yeah - the story directly after mine has some strong language and sex 'n' drugs references. Exactly, in fact, the kind of thing that might fall foul of a typical work-based internet filter (which is odd, considering the website's name). Just thought I'd mention that before anyone accuses me of leading them into murky waters.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Get in!

Some good news today - my spoof restaurant review "Xtcokpøt" has been accepted by Defenestration. I'm well pleased about this, as once I'd written the thing I had absolutely no idea where to send it and spent a lot of time searching through a lot of websites that claimed to be humorous but instead were, largely, pants.

Defenestration on the other hand, seems well put together, nice-looking, and most importantly, funny (with the caveat that humour is a very subjective thing, of course). I thought they were worth a shot, and - to my surprise - they liked the review.

I've spent some time browsing the site, and I particularly like the cartoons, which are drawn by the Editor-in-Chief, Andrew Kaye. Sodabot is genius.

No news on a publication date as yet, but stay tuned and I'll let you know when it's up and doing its thing.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Oh, yeah, right - about the name...

Why "Lies, Ink"?

Most people seem to use their own name as a title for their blog, and there's a lot of sense in that.

What kept me from using my name is the thought that - one day - I plan to have a couple of writing careers in parallel. See, I'm an awkward swine and like the idea of writing both mainstream/literary fiction and genre stuff. Publishers, apparently, aren't keen on this and if writers insist on hopping out of their pigeonholes every once in a while, they are expected to use a different name so that bookshops can put the different styles of books in the appropriate sections and nobody has to venture into a part of the bookshop that is unfamiliar and scary to them. So, I might end up publishing stuff under two (or more, I suppose) different names. Unless I did an Iain Banks / Iain M. Banks. I like his no-nonsense approach to this dual-name thing, but can't help thinking he's missed an opportunity. Why not really let his hair down and call himself Iain Banks for one category, and Zoot Freeblander or Spanky Huckerdime for the other? Just a thought, Iain, if you happen to drop by.

Er, anyway. So I wanted a blog name that meant something to me but wasn't actually my name. So I picked "Lies, Ink". It's based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Lies, Inc. - but cunningly altered so that it references two aspects of writing fiction. Lies, because fiction is essentially the art of telling massive lies, and ink, because - well, it's obvious, innit?

Click on the link for more details of the book, and plenty of information about Philip K. Dick's other work. There'll be more references to PKD in the future, I'm sure - I'm a big fan of his.

Friday 2 July 2010

An End to Procrastination?

I've put off starting a blog for quite a while. It seemed like something I probably should do, but I didn't think it was 'my sort of thing'. Several of the people I know who write also have a blog and I wondered how they ever find time to write and blog and do all the other stuff they have to do to avoid starving to death or having their house repossessed.

So why the change of heart? Well, I've been taking my writing more seriously for the past year or so. I'm not particularly prolific, so I haven't written all that much, but I have at least been a bit more focused and have sent more stories out (either to competitions or printed or online markets). As I result, I've begun to have some success with what I formerly considered a pleasant but largely directionless hobby.

Achieving this moderate level of success made me take more notice of what other writers were doing. So I began to pay attention to those little potted author biographies that publishers tend to put at the end of people's stories. Nearly all of these seemed to end by telling us all that so-and-so blogs at so-and-so'

Ha! I thought, what self-indulgent fools. Who on earth is going to want to read the unedited mental outpourings of some over-opinionated amateur writer? What a waste of time. Admittedly, I did read a few of these blogs and they were pretty good. But still. It seemed more effort than it was worth.

Recently, I've clocked up a couple of what I humbly consider to be impressive results in a couple of competitions. Impressive enough for me to have got over one of those mental hurdles - the lack of confidence in what I do that used to make me want to keep the fact that I write a secret, as though it's some grubby habit you don't mention in polite society. And I started thinking about what it means to be a writer in today's web-centric world, and how best to present myself as a writer.

Suddenly, it clicked. I realised that the bloggers are not just spouting self-congratulatory garbage (well, not all of them) - they are tying together their stories, sharing tips and advice with other writers, spreading the word about competitions, building a readership.

So, here it is, my blog. It won't change the world. It won't show you how to be a better person. But it might help you track down my stories, and it'll give me something extra to put in my bio.

Thanks for stopping by.