The perfect Christmas treat: the Five Stop Story Kindle e-book

Christmas is coming, the shops are covered in lights and there is a Christmas tree on every corner. I’m in Bangkok and I never expected it to be this festive here. But it’s great – I’m loving all the good cheer and the decorations. The Thais love Christmas – I think mainly because it’s just enough excuse to have fun and enjoy themselves. And also an excuse to visit the shopping malls which are always packed whatever time of year it is.
Getting into the Christmas spirit, Five Stop Story is going to launch an e-book in time for Christmas. This will feature 30 of the best short stories from the competitions. It will be free for a limited introductory period so that authors and their friends and families can download it so get in quick and buy
At the moment, I am trapped in a formatting hell, pummeling the formatting into a Kindle-shaped Christmas package. I was hoping to put one of my own stories in the book, but I haven’t had time to do my own editing! Still, it’s all in a good cause – the first Five Stop Story Kindle book. I can’t wait.

The lovely Robert Coles has also recently interviewed me about the kindle book and Five Stop Story in general on his blog – check out the interview here.

Must get back to formatting now!

Nanowrimo: Was it good for you?

So nanowrimo is nearly over. I only have 25,000 words left to write and 2 days to write them in. Hmmm….. I think I can conclude this is a fail. But is it?

Last year I managed to complete the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month without too many problems. In fact, I overshot and did 75,000 and finished about 5 days before the end. I was working full time and going out with my friends as usual. So how come it worked last year and not this year?

I’ve decided that there are times when nanowrimo is a good idea and times when it isn’t such a good idea. One thing to consider is the editing required afterwards. For every hour I spend writing I probably spend 5/6 hours editing later on. Some chapters don’t require much editing, some require loads of editing; 5/6 hours is an average. When I write some of what I write is rubbish and some is alright. Usually I work to about a 40:60 ratio, so 40% of what I write needs extensive editing. This nanowrimo I think I was working at about 90:10 so 90% was going to require loads of editing. The maths just didn’t make sense. By keeping writing I was just creating loads more work for myself later on!

Part of the reason for this is that writing is only a small part of what’s involved in creating a book. Writing itself tends to come in the middle of the process, book-ended by research on one side and editing on the other. My book last year didn’t need much research, as it was about people my age, living in London. All I needed to do was hang around with my friends. This time round my book needed loads of research and I hadn’t had time to do it before nanowrimo. Starting without the research behind me was a big mistake. I found I was writing scenes without having any idea how realistic they were. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn’t that enjoyable.

So here’s my top 5 tips for making nano a success next year:

1. Either do your research and planning before you start or else write what you know

2. There’s no time for self-doubt; keep going regardless

3. Allow time to restructure and edit afterwards. Writing is only a small part of the work

4. Don’t procrastinate. Just write.

5. For me it’s important to get out and keep living your life, otherwise the ideas just aren’t there

Next year, I’m going to plan better and try to relive the buzz of my first nanowrimo. I know that when nanowrimo goes well, it can be awe-inspiring. Next year, I’ll know how to make sure that it fulfils it’s potential. I’ll research, plan and be prepared. Or else I’ll be lazy and just write what I know!

How was nanowrimo for everyone else?

Amy Winehouse: The Curse of 27

It was sad to hear the news this weekend that Amy Winehouse had died. Partly because her life was cut short so young and partly because the path she was on almost made the outcome almost inevitable.

It seemed the “curse of 27” had struck again and Amy Winehouse added her name to a long list of stars who lived hard and died young, all at the same age:

Kurt Cobain. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Jim Morrison…

But 27 is a strange age for everyone, not just multi-million selling musicians. The fact that these musicians achieved so much before they even reached 27 makes ordinary people seem – well- even more ordinary.

Up until your mid-twenties your horizons are generally widening. You go to uni and you suddenly have the freedom from the restrictions of your parents. You get a job and you have your own money which you can spend recklessly and at will, without a hint of guilt. You have the freedom to flit around from job to job, location to location, trying different lives on for size.

But at 27 you suddenly realise that certain options are no longer available to you. Your options are narrowing. It’s time to decide what to do with your life.

UK Literary Agents – Some Help from the Writers’ Workshop

The great thing about the internet is that there is so much free content that can help writers and that is accessible to everyone. I wanted to share a great spreadsheet (I know what you’re thinking the words “great” and spreadsheet” aren’t a natural fit, but stay with me) that I found online today. The people at the Writers’ Workshop have put together a list of literary agents in the UK and beside each one have put the kind of submissions they are accepting and some notes. You can download the spreadsheet here. I actually have a very similar spreadsheet that I made myself about 2 years ago using the Writers and Artists’ Handbook. I’m very happy that this time round someone else has done it for me. Anyone can download the spreadsheet, save it to their computer and edit it as they please. So you can use it to keep track of the submissions you make.
Talking of “free things” (a rather tenuous link) Five Stop Story’s July short story competition is now in full swing – find out more on the website.

The perils of starting a new novel

I’m about to start my third novel. Well, to be honest, I was about to start my third novel two months ago, but since then I’ve been busy down by editing my other novels, speaking at the literary festival and running Five Stop Story.

I may have been procrastinating about starting. You see this time I want to get it right from the beginning. I’ve spent so much of my life editing over the past few years and it’s really not my favourite thing.

This time I have visions about getting it right first time. A world where the first draft just needs wording tweaks rather than an entire restructure and character personality transplants.

So out came all the books on “how to be a writer” which I have accumulated over the years and never actually really read (with hindsight, perhaps a mistake.) But now I have read them and I’m thoroughly confused.  

There’s one book called “16 steps to novel writing success” which I’m split between loving and hating. On the one hand it’s great – it gives you 16 steps which almost guarantee success. On the other hand I get the feeling that the kind of book that would come out of this process is not one I’d want to read. It would be – well – formulaic.

The other books are similarly systematic in their approach. And while sometimes I like following a system, when I’m writing it can feel restrictive and take a lot of the fun out of the process.

So I’ve read a lot of books on writing and now I’ve switched from procrastinating about the subject and plot of the novel to procrastinating about which rules I should follow and which I should disobey. Will ignoring one of the 16 steps to success mean my novel will only ever be destined for the slush pile? I hope not.

In the meantime, instead of thinking about writing, maybe, one day, I might actually start writing the book….

Five Stop Story

Five Stop Story is the short story website I run to discover new writers. I’ve recently launched a new competition with a “travel” theme. The Five Stop Story mobile application is due for launch in September and will showcase the best short stories by up and coming writers.

I thought now was as good a time as any to tell you about about the idea behind Five Stop Story and the current competition:

A “five stop story” is a story you can read in five stops on the tube in London, or in about 10 minutes.

I started the Five Stop Story project to discover and publish short stories that can easily fit into modern lives. As people get busier and busier they find it harder and harder to find the time to read. At the same time, they now have the technology to read on the move. They no longer have to lug a book around in the hope that they will find somewhere to read it. They can read on a mobile phone, an ipad or a Kindle.

So people have less time, but they can now read anywhere. This means that they can fill their spare moments with fiction. They can read on the tube to work, or while they are waiting to meet someone for coffee. The ideal medium for these spare moments is the short story; fiction that will fill the time, but you won’t have to abandon half way through.

Five Stop Story aims to fill these spare moments with stories by new writers. We are running regular competitions to discover these writers and the competition prize includes publication on the website and our forthcoming mobile application. The mobile application will enable people to read stories by up and coming writers on the move. 

The Five Stop Story website launched in November 2010 and the first competition ran in January 2011. Five Stop Story is supported by the Arts Council and will be launching its mobile application in September this year.

The theme of the current competition is travel and we are looking for stories of 1,500 to 2,500 words. As well as publication on the website and mobile application, the overall winner will receive a copy of the book A Moral Murder & Other Tales from the Blue Hills by Sangeetha Shinde Tee. The closing date is 26th June 2011. To find out more and read the stories by previous winners please visit the website.

Is a good book always memorable?

Since starting my time off work, I’ve relished the prospect of having more time to read. A couple of weeks ago, I studied my bookshelf, savouring the possibilities. The shelves were creaking under the weight of books I hadn’t read – books I bought from Amazon when I got distracted browsing the internet, gifts from friends, slightly tattered books from charity shops and a whole collection of books with the sticker “3 for 2” on their front covers.
I spent half an hour happily browsing through the shelves, envisaging myself by the swimming pool with book in hand. Eventually I selected one. The blurb sounded enticing and I wanted to start it straight away.
But by the time I go to around the fifth chapter I was starting to get a bit of déjà vu. The plot seemed a bit….familiar. But I decided that maybe I’d just watched a programme with a similar plot on TV. I put the feeling aside and read on.
By the time I was about a third in and more familiar with the characters I knew I had read it before. I was confused. The book was well-written and interesting – I was enjoying it. So why didn’t I remember it?
I racked my brains to remember the ending but couldn’t. I felt frustrated. Now I knew I’d read it before it all seemed a bit pointless. What was the point of reading it again, only to forget it again? I started to think of all the other books I wanted to read and found I couldn’t concentrate on the book any more. It was using up time, and my time was valuable.
So I put it to one side and started a new book – Dead Game, by Claire Kinton, one of the books selected for the Brit Writers publishing programme.
The old book is sitting on my bedside table and it looks at me reproachfully whenever I pick up Dead Game. I feel guilty. I enjoyed the old book, but just not enough. It wasn’t memorable.
It got me thinking. Should books be stay with you long after you read them? What makes a book memorable?

An Olympic Opportunity

The time has come to pay up for our Olympic tickets. Across the UK, between now and the middle of June, money will start disappearing from accounts and people will start speculating about which tickets they might have been awarded.

For us, this will be a complete guessing game as we applied for the cheapest tickets in all the events we chose, so if £40 has gone from my account I could find myself at anything from football to water polo. That’s not to say I don’t want to go to water polo. I do. I just want to go to the football more.

The only thing to do is wait.

But while you’re waiting to find out what tickets you’ve got, you may be interested to learn of an opportunity for writers, bloggers and artists to get involved in telling the story of the games themselves. You can find out more about the BT Storytellers campaign and apply here. 

Good luck!

The books that nurture young minds….

What books influenced when you were young? Catcher in the Rye?  Lord of the Flies? Intelligent and provocative fiction that made you think and question the very nature of society?

I’m not ashamed to admit that for me it was nothing as thought-provoking as all that. It was Sweet Valley High. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, with their silky blonde hair, aqua blue eyes and perfect size six figures were loved by pre-teen females across the globe and by the time the series ended over 300 books had been written about the twins, tracing their journey from kids to university students. It must have been one of the most profitable “brands” in pre-teen fiction.

So imagine my delight when, meandering aimlessly around the internet, I found the website of my childhood dreams:

http://shannonsweetvalley.com/

Yes – it’s a whole site dedicated to sweet valley. And it’s brilliant. For each book, Shannon has identified a tongue in cheek moral of the story and written a detailed synopsis. I admired her dedication and spent a blissful hour (or two) browsing the site before cursing her for distracting me.

But there was even better news to come. Francine Pascal, the creator of the twins, had decided to bring them back – 10 years on. And they’re 27 – my own age! It seems like things are meant to be. When I read the book it will be like welcoming back old friends.

Or will it?

I was so excited that I decided to read the reviews before going back to work.

They weren’t good.

Apparently Francine Pascal didn’t appear to have read the original books (most of which had been written by ghostwriters). Characters’ entire personalities and even their names (in some cases) had changed. Key plot points in previous books had been forgotten – including a character’s death.

For a new writer these kind of errors would be unacceptable.

Can I forgive her and read the book?

The thing is I think I will. I can’t resist the power of the brand.

Ponderings, paranoia and publishing – the start of a journey

For a writer, blogging should be easy. You just put down what’s happening to you day to day, your thoughts and feelings, whatever you’re thinking. Simple!

But it’s not that easy. Unlike fiction, it requires you to reflect on your own life. It needs facts and demands honesty. Guides to blogging inform you that your posts should be entertaining and witty. You should keep your reader engaged. Whoever that mystical reader may be.

In short, it’s difficult.

The fictional world is full of drama, choices, difficult decisions – all condensed into handy novels that will fit comfortably into your backpack or briefcase. The real world is full of got up, toast for breakfast, sat at my computer a bit, tried to write, watched TV, had lunch kind of days. The kind of days that Facebook was made for. The kind of days where you don’t really do anything of note.

So why blog at all? This year of my life will be different from previous years – I’ll be splitting my time between London and Bangkok, “working” as an aspiring writer and running short story competitions through Five Stop Story. As one of the first participants in the innovative Brit Writers Awards Publishing Programme, I’m hoping that with hard work I will one day be a published novelist.

Throughout the year I’ll share with you my thoughts on writing, any useful tips and information I find, and stories of my life in Bangkok, the city of smiles.