Writing Competitions

I haven’t mentioned much recently about how I’m faring in trying to get published because, well, there’s not been much news. However, while trawling the internet for opportunities I’ve found that there are a couple of great writing competitions for debut/undiscovered novelists on at the mo – I thought I’d share them just in case anyone’s interested and hasn’t spotted them yet:

Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2015

This one actually has my local bookseller – Bookseller Crow – as one of the judges, which is pretty cool. I’ll be taking bottles of whisky in on a weekly basis until the shortlist is announced.

The Word of Mouth Prize

This also looks good and has, amongst others, the owner of Dulwich Books as a judge – also not a million miles away for the purposes of bribe-delivery.

I might actually send different novels into each one. For those who’ve read a few of my previous posts you’ll know I’ve got one novel ready to go (in my opinion) and another one well under way. The second of the competitions allows for works-in-progress, and I’m pretty happy with the first half of my second novel, so might give that one a whirl. The deadline isn’t for a while, so I’ll give it a bit more thought before committing either way though.

I also spotted this short story competition today, specifically looking for speculative fiction on the theme of First Contact (not necessarily extra-terrestrial). I haven’t written a short story for a while, but have a stack awaiting an airing. Maybe it’s time to try sending a few out…

Good luck if you’re going in for any of them. Anyone know of a good resource/blog/twitter account that reliably collates these kinds of things? I’m thinking of the novel ones specifically really, and ideally UK-focused.


Is Genre Fiction Reaching Critical Mass?

"...all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination..."

“…all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination…”

Interesting things are happening in SFF and other ‘genre’ fiction right now. Having been looked down on for decades (centuries?) it’s increasingly looking like mainstream cultural and critical acceptance is on the cards. Why do I think this? And why now?

The last two ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions at the British Library were devoted to comics/graphic novels and Gothic fiction. The BFI have a sweeping Sci Fi season on at the moment. The BBC are getting in on the act and have sci fI documentaries playing right now. And then there was this speech from Ursula K Le Guin (and if you haven’t read her Left Hand of Darkness I suggest you stop reading this right now and get a copy).

I’ve written briefly about Interstellar already and, whatever you may think of it, there’s surely no denying it’s great to see a slab of grown up sci fi reaching a wide audience – not just robots slugging each other in the face for once. And on TV Game of Thrones has become the one to rule them all.

That’s why I think it’s happening now, but where has it come from? What’s driving it? I wonder if it’s not linked back to the phenomenon that is/was Harry Potter. The generation that were kids when the first book came out are grown up now. And through their teenage years and into early adulthood they followed Harry’s saga, with Lord of the Rings punctuating it on the big screen (along with the Potter adaptations themselves of course). It was an adolescence defined by fantastical fiction, some of the most successful ever, and it has led to an fantasy-literate adult audience broader than ever before.

That’s my theory at any rate, and I’m sure there are many other ways to spin it – capitalism following one genre success to make more money maybe, or the internet uniting disparate fantasy fans into a collective force, or something in the times we’re living through making fantasy and sci-fi appealing as either carriers for metaphor or escapism from the global recession.

I’ll post something more about Harry Potter soon, but what do you think? Do you think genre fiction is ascending to its rightful place alongside ‘literary’ fiction? If so, what’s your theory?


An Injection of Gothic

Or, Bela Lugosi’s dead…


Subtlety is not the gothic's strong point

I mentioned in my NaNoWriMo Hacks post that I visited the Gothic exhibition at the British Library recently. I’ve got some pretty strong gothic credentials as the first short story I ever wrote (the result of a school project many moons ago) was a Poe tribute – though I didn’t actually take writing seriously until a fair few years later – and for a couple of years in the late 90s I played keyboards in a band called Purity of Decadence who looked like this:


That's me on the left. Bloody loved that coat

The exhibition, called Terror and Wonder, is definitely a stop off if you’re into the weird or fantastical, and it’s worth picking up the accompanying book – it goes into a lot more detail than the captions could manage in their limited space – I’m going to have a very long reading list when I’ve worked my way through it.

Amongst the novels and images and artefacts was an object owned by Horace Walpole, the author of the first generally accepted gothic novel (The Castle of Otranto). A piece of polished obsidian, jet black in a darkened glass cabinet. It might have been quite easy to miss, there were certainly lots of other great images and objects tearing at the attention. Fortunately I was being thorough, because it turned out to be John Dee’s Aztec spirit mirror, one of his primary means for contacting the dead, either for his own ends or for Elizabeth I for whom he sometimes worked. I caught my reflection in it, but nothing more – I wonder how many visitors see something other than themselves in there?

What struck me about the exhibition was the way the idea of the gothic has changed as the centuries have rolled past, starting off with classic haunted medieval castles in novels that claimed to be translations of ancient manuscripts, through to burnt heathland, into fog-cloaked cities and even in to body mutation. What seems to be the linking factor is the idea of location and atmosphere, a pregnant sense of dread hanging over proceedings.

That’s something that I think I’m writing towards, but can definitely stand to bring further toward the front. The sense of location is quite important in the novels I’m working on – in A Calling-on Song it’s a calmingly familiar town whose charms start to rebel against the protagonist, and in Lord of the Dance it’s pretty much the opposite; a town which functions as a prison for my protagonist starts to reveal secrets that end up making the place alluring.

Or failing that I’ll stick an ancient Aztec spirit mirror owned by a long-dead mystic into my characters’ hands early on and see what happens. The exhibition is on for a while still, so pop along if you’re in London and let me know what you think.

Interstellar and Magick

First off, allow me to announce right up front: Interstellar Spoiler Alert.
Ok, just those who’ve seen it left? On we go.
I saw and very much enjoyed Interstellar the other night, and one part of it struck a bit of a chord with me. Once Coop (Matthew McConaughey) has gone into the black hole and fallen into a higher dimensional space the filmmakers were quite clearly needing to find a way to represent something outside our perceptions yet in a way that we could perceive. The way he was able to interact with matter, pushing at the strings of reality seemed like a neat way to represent it, and actually reminded me a little of Jamie Braddock from X-men/eXcalibur comics. I think Interstellar pulled it off better though if I’m honest.
I write about magick and odd ethereal concepts so I’m always on the lookout for ways other media portray the unportrayable. I’m not talking about fireball-slinging wizard battles here, but more esoteric stuff. Interstellar fits right into this, particularly when bearing in mind the famous Arthur C Clarke quote:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
Talking of magick...

Talking of magick…

One of my other film faves for this is A Field In England, Ben Wheatley’s Civil War weird-fest. When the magick (or is it drugs?) gets going there’s a beautiful and abrasive bombardment of images that threatens to overwhelm the viewer. Add that to the ethereal tone conjured throughout and I think it far exceeds any of Kenneth Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle where magick is concerned.
Typically understated

Typically understated…

Out of film, parts of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles comic series take a great stab at showing intersecting realities, particularly some of the Phil Jiminez illustrated issues around Bloody Hell In America – take a gander at the photo above for a favourite page from my much-thumbed copy. Hardly a surprise given the Pop Magic! central both to the comic and Grant Morrison’s philosophy.
Let me know some other exciting interpretations of higher planes of existence/experience, I’m always on the lookout for more.

NaNoWriMo Hacks – Part 2

Nom nom nom words words words nom nom nom

Nom nom nom words words words nom nom nom

Welcome to part 2 of my NaNoWriMo advice on how to make it as easy as possible for yourself to keep your word count high. These aren’t writing tips per se, just some ways you can help maximise your productivity without going nuts. I’ve been a NaNoWriMo devotee since 2009 and after a rocky first year have ‘won’ every time. On with the tips!
4. Social butterfly.
I had thought that NaNoWriMo would become about staying home and making no plans whatsoever, but I actually found that counter-productive. When I tried that I went stir-crazy and became unable to concentrate on anything at all. What I think is important is a) picking your engagements wisely, and b) planning for some writing time around them. As my Birthday is in November, there’s always the worry that crazy Birthday shenanigans will hamper creativity. Last year though, my other half bought train tickets for a day trip to a really cool town that happened to be two hours away – two hours of writing there, two hours of writing back and a lovely day out too! The other day I went to a couple of exhibitions, one about Gothic fiction and the other about witches in art – both incredibly inspiring for what I’m writing. So time out from physically writing, but great food for my writing brain.
5. Planning
This could be a tricky one, as some people just refuse to plan much. And that’s fine, whatever works best for you. But me? I started out as a pantser, writing whatever came, following that white rabbit wherever he led. Which was, most often, to a dead end. And having redrafted a novel I pantsed, most of it was unsalvageable. Since I’ve started planning, in really quite a lot of detail, I never have to stop and think about what’s happening next – I’ve done all that work in advance and can concentrate on wrestling those words into the right order, knowing that they’re going to end up just where I want them. I love this chap’s approach to story structure – really helped me get my head around planning.
6. Leave it to someone else
And by someone else, I of course mean future you! You NaNo novel will not be publishable. No disrespect to you, but however well it’s going it will need redrafting at least once. And most probably a number of times. That’s the writing process. Embrace it. Don’t keep going over sentences trying to polish the language. Move on. Get a first draft finished, then worry about making each sentence the very best it can be. Who knows, when you reread your novel, you might need to remove a scene or completely rewrite it so there’s no need to get every word publication ready quite yet. Make it the best you can in the moment and move on!
7. Writin’ Juice
If all else fails, a tot of whisky isn’t the end of the world to silence your inner editor and let you get on with it! Or pour a slug o’ hooch into your coffee (a hipflask carried around can liven up a turgid Starbucks Americano too). I don’t need it to write though. I’m fine, really. I just like the taste. I don’t know where that other bottle has gone. Why’s the room spinning?
Hope some of these are useful, feel free to let me know any hacks you employ to maximise productivity.


NaNoWriMo Hacks – Part 1

Or, eating novel for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Ooooh, there's a ghost in there taking a photo of me taking a photo of it...

Ooooh, there’s a ghost in there taking a photo of me taking a photo of it…

As discussed in my last post, November is a magical time of year for me, as National Novel Writing Month rolls around once again. It’s a month where fun pastimes like film-watching, game-playing and drunk-getting are sacrificed on the altar of the great god Wordcount. The good news (for me) is that this year, as I was working on redrafting a quarter of my novel, I’m already done – a solid 35,000 words done within the first two weeks. This frees me up nicely for my Birthday tomorrow (seriously, leaving it late to buy a card guys, come on) but also left me pondering how different an experience it was to my first NaNoWriMo in 2009, when I barely scraped 40,000 words for the month. Since then I’ve hit the 50K target a fair few times, so here are a few top tips for maximising word count – some may be easy to implement, some may be for next time around.

  1. Make it easy to write

The first year I tackled NaNoWriMo it was predominantly on a combination of notebook/pen and a cheap phone with a qwerty keypad, written while out and about. I’d then type up the handwritten bits and copy the phone document into a single Word doc on my desktop at home and, if I could face it by that point, do some more writing. The following year I used a battered and pretty hefty laptop with a whopping 40 minute battery charge. Then I finally invested in a cheap netbook – Samsung NC110 – which is pretty rubbish at surfing the internet but great at running Scrivener and Word. Fits easily on my lap on the tube, starts running in seconds to maximise my lunch breaks at work, lasts for ages, and is a natty purple.

  1. Meals

This is a small, but useful tip – I cook a lot, and found that by the time I’d got home from work, caught up with my wife, cooked a meal and eaten, not only would time be ticking on with no more words to show for it, but I’d really feel like goofing off and doing something a bit mindless. These days, with a bit of planning, I make sure that all the meals I’m going to have in November are either quick and easy to prepare or make a massive amount of leftovers – so I might make a hefty pie or stew on Sunday night that lasts through most of the week, freeing up time and brain-space!

  1. Condition yourself.

Always be ready to write. Always have the tools needed to hand. This is one that I think has developed over time as my brain has got used to writing – these days I can start without needing to get ‘in the zone’ or whatnot. A great way I’ve found of developing this skill, along with just writing all the damn time, is to use the same music all along for a particular project. It might take me a while to find the right album or playlist, but when I’ve got it I don’t deviate. That way, after a few sessions, as soon as the first notes of the first song play, my brain associates it with writing and the words start to flow. Round at a friend’s house the other day, he had to make a quick work phone call. In went the headphones, on went the laptop, up went the word count.

That’s it for now – another few tips coming in a couple of days. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, let me know how it’s going.