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?

Five Stop Story iPhone and iPad App Launch

It’s been a busy month. The Five Stop Story iphone and ipad app is up and running and I’ve been in London putting flyers in bookshops, coffee shops and local libraries to encourage people to download it and discover new writers.
We’ve crammed the app with features and you can browse the stories by author, or by genre or by competition winners. You can also read more about the authors in their bios and visit their websites. The app links with Facebook and Twitter so that you can share the stories you really like.
You can download the app on the your iphone/ipad by visiting the app store and searching for “Five Stop Story.” Find out more about the app here.
On last check we were #2 in the UK “what’s hot” in Books list!

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.

Bangkok Literary Festival

Last weekend was the first ever Bangkok Literary festival. Organised by the Neilson Hays library, the day provided a chance to mingle with fellow writers, hear a range of informative talks about all aspects of writing and participate in writing workshops.

I was very fortunate to be asked to speak at the festival. My talk covered two key topics. Firstly, as a new writer, I spoke about the challenges and the opportunities presented by the new publishing landscape. Secondly, I discussed short stories and my view that the short story is very much the medium for fiction in the 21st century. This then gave me the opportunity to tell people about Five Stop Story and its latest short story competition. (This will be the subject of my next blog post, but in the meantime, you can find out more here.)

Before my talk I was pretty nervous – especially when I read through the festival programme and saw the high calibre of the other speakers – including Ken Hom, Stephen Leather and Christopher G Moore. How could I compete with Ken Hom? Before I went into my talk I was wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

But luckily the audience were very receptive and welcoming. My talk went smoothly and people asked well-informed and challenging questions. And I received a bottle of wine for my efforts, which was certainly appreciated!

After my talk, I decided it would be bad form to crack open the wine immediately so I treated myself to a burger and a beer and then went to see Christopher G Moore and Stephen Leather’s talks. Christopher’s talk took the audience through each of his books, providing us with an insight into how life in Bangkok had changed since he started writing. Stephen shared his first-hand experience creating a best-selling e-book – a real bonus for new writers.

All in all, it was a great day out, extremely well organised by Annemarie Hellemans and her team at the Neilson Hays. I’m already looking forward to the next festival!

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!