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Monday, August 17, 2009

And the Winner Is...


Yes, it's time to reveal the winner of my contest to win a copy of my illustrated science-fiction novella, The Festival on Lyris Five.

There were six entries in the contest, so I asked my partner, Jayne, to pick a number between 1 and 6 (without telling her what it was for). She picked number 4, so I'm pleased to reveal that the winner of a signed copy is entrant number 4, Coffeewithkate. Congratulations, Kate!

I originally advertised that two runners-up would receive PDF versions of the novella. In a contest with only six entries, however, it seems a shame to have any losers, so I've decided to donate a copy of the PDF to everyone who entered. Please write to me with your email address using the Contact Me link on my blog, and I'll send you download instructions.

The competition asked people to name their favorite SF or fantasy books and state their reasons in 50 words or fewer. I've reproduced all the entries below, in case anyone else who enjoys SFF is looking for some more reading ideas...

Brittany
Airman, by Eoin Colfer
A picture-perfect life, dashed by lies. The 14-year-old in the center of this story flies--literally-- through a tumult of treachery, anger, abuse, and hatred on his way to justice and his dream--learning to fly.

Jesse
West of Eden by Harry Harrison
An alternate-history work built around a world in which dinosaurs and humans both evolved into intelligent species. Two extremely different civilizations are brought together in a story full of excitement, intrigue, and conflict.

igotrythmn
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson
Oldie but a goodie, two worlds, alter ego, escaping reality, characters out of this world, stories build, crescend, time travel, ethereal existence, is it real or is it not kind of stuff. Three more books are being written before the end.

Coffeewithkate
Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy- Douglas Adams
An ordinary man thrown into a world of Paranoid Androids, Pangalactic Gargleblasters and deadly Vogon Poetry.
Join Arthur Dent and his quest to discover the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in this classic sci-fi romp.
Pyjamas optional.

Rosco Fraser
Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers
I have honestly never laughed so much from reading a book in my life. I loved the TV show but the book was so much better, my favourite bit is the hopper ride, comic genius and a definite must read.

Carrie Sheppard
Dragon's Egg: Theodore Sturgeon
This book was written decades ago and yet it is one of the most forward thinking books I have ever read. He challenges our very perceptions of physics and reality and offers a great story too. These old SF writers gave us 90% of our current technology lingo - if you've never read this book, or any work by TS, then remedy it!

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I've read Hitch-Hiker's Guide (I'm tempted to add 'of course'!) but rather surprisingly none of the others. I have read some of Harry Harrison's other books, and especially recommend The Technicolor Time Machine if you can find a copy - it's Harrison at his hilarious best. The other books and authors listed above I will have to check out soon.

Happy reading!

Photo Credit: Rufus Gefangenen on Flickr

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Win a Signed Copy of The Festival on Lyris Five!

As regular readers will know, The Festival on Lyris Five is my tongue-in-cheek science fiction novella, newly published by Salvatore Publishing.

You can find out more about the book, and read an extract from it, in my earlier blog post.

To celebrate the launch, I'm giving away a signed copy of the printed version of The Festival on Lyris Five, along with two copies of the downloadable (PDF) version for the runners-up.

To win, all you have to do is post the title and author of your favorite science fiction or fantasy book as a comment below, along with no more than 50 words about why you like it so much. I'm really hoping for some good recommendations for books to read myself in the coming months!

The contest is open to anyone in the world. The closing date is midnight GMT on Sunday 16 August. I will pick the winners at random from all qualifying entries, and announce the results on this blog on Monday 17 August. So you have just over a fortnight to get your entry in!

Good luck, and please do mention this contest to anyone else you think might like to enter.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nick Daws' Novella Published!

I'm pleased to reveal that my tongue-in-cheek science-fiction novella The Festival on Lyris Five is now available in both printed and downloadable form.

The Festival on Lyris Five has been published by Salvatore Publishing, a new publishing house run by Guy Cousins and other members of my forum. I'm delighted to be among the first authors to be taken on by Salvatore.

As regards the story, I can't really do better than quote my publisher's blurb:

Former Ten Stars combat pilot Rick Barrett is having a bad day. Not only is he jobless and broke, in a seedy spaceport bar he has just been forced into a winner-takes-all poker game with a homicidal cauliflower. Salvation is at hand in the shapely form of Irish redhead Julie Halloran, who has an unusual talent of her own. Julie has a proposition for Rick that could end his financial worries at a stroke, though it might also end up getting him killed. But is Julie keeping a few cards hidden herself?

The Festival on Lyris Five is a fast-moving, hilarious, science-fiction novella, where nothing is quite what it seems. The story by UK author Nick Daws is beautifully complemented by Louise Tolentino's wry illustrations.

If you'd like to know more, you can read an extract from the story by clicking on the BookBuzzr widget below...


If you are receiving this post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to view the widget.

As you will see, The Festival on Lyris Five is available for purchase in both printed and downloadable form (PDF).

I'd just add that I wrote this story a few years ago, when I had a bit more time for fiction writing. It's proved quite difficult to place, as it's too short for a conventional novel yet too long for most short-story markets. I'm delighted to see it in print at last, much enhanced by Louise's illustrations. I make no claims for The Festival on Lyris Five as a work of literature, but I had a lot of fun writing it, and hope readers will share some of that enjoyment now.

Lastly, I'm planning to launch a competition to win a signed copy of The Festival on Lyris Five soon, so keep watching this blog for details!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Two Paying Markets for Very Short Fiction

I know from comments on my forum that many writers enjoy trying their hand at very short (sometimes called flash) fiction.

So I thought in this post I'd spotlight a couple of paying opportunities for this type of story I've come across recently.

The first is for stories of 25 words or less for an anthology of 'Hint Fiction', to be published by W.W. Norton later this year. If you're wondering what Hint Fiction might be, the guidelines include the following explanation:

What is Hint Fiction? It's a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story. The thesis of the anthology is to prove that a story 25 words or less can have as much impact as a story 2,500 words or longer. The anthology will include between 100 and 150 stories. We want your best work.

It's possible to write a complete story in 25 words or less - a beginning, middle, end - but that's not Hint Fiction.

The very best Hint Fiction stories can be read many different ways.

We want stories we can read again and again and never tire of. Stories that don't pull any punches. Stories that make us think, that evoke some kind of emotional response.

The payment on offer is $25 per story for World and Audio rights. For more information, click here. Note that submissions do not open until 1 August 2009, and an email address for them will appear on the guidelines page at that time.

The other opportunity I wanted to mention is for even shorter fiction - 140 characters or less. As you may perhaps have guessed, it's for short stories to be published on the micro-blogging service Twitter.

Tweet the Meat wants horror/weird/speculative fiction stories. They say: 'No serials. No unfinished stories. You must scare us in 140 characters or less. Are you up to the challenge?'

Submissions are via email, and the submission period each week is Saturday and Sunday. Most weeks there is a set theme. One story is chosen for publication on the Tweet the Meat Twitter account every day, and the successful author is paid $1 by Paypal. For more info, visit http://tweetthemeat.blogspot.com/2009/04/submission-guidelines.html.

Good luck if you decide to submit work to either of these markets!

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Friday, May 08, 2009

$500 Flash Fiction Contest

Short story writing contests are always popular, so here's a good one you may want to check out.

The e-book publishing service Smashwords, in association with the Editor Unleashed blog and community, is running a flash-fiction writing contest for stories of up to 1000 words on any subject.

There's a top prize of $500 for the winner, plus 39 runner-up prizes of $25. The top 40 stories will also be published in an e-book anthology, and their authors will get free links/publicity via the contest sponsors.

The best news is that there is no entry fee, and the contest is open to anyone in the world.

Submissions are open from May 18 until June 14, 2009. To enter, you have to post your story on the Editor Unleashed forum. Stories will then be ranked by members of the forum, and the 40 winners will be announced on June 30, 2009.

For more information, see this post on the Smashwords blog or this one at Editor Unleashed.

Good luck!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Contests Week: Monday Challenge Results

Last week was Contests Week on my forum at Mywriterscircle.com, and this week the winners will be revealed.

Monday's challenge was to write a story in exactly 100 words including three essential words (envelope, jocular, precursor).

We received over 50 entries to this contest, and the overall standard was amazingly high (so much so that the judging took a lot longer than anticipated). There can only be one winner, however, so I am delighted to reveal that this was Grognoth, with the following entry:

The Fear of All Mothers Whose Sons Went to War
by Grognoth

The news was bad; the fleet had come under attack at night. Philip's ship had been torpedoed. Few men survived, many were unaccounted for.

Having read the naval letter, Sally believed it was a precursor for worse to come. "Missing in action; presumed dead." No words of comfort, just the official cold line.

Sally waited before nervously picking up the beige envelope. An hour and three cups of tea later, she opened it.

"Dear Mum, in hospital and in jocular mood, though don't know why; so many friends gone. Love you."

Sally returned the paper to the envelope and cried.


I will be in touch with Grognoth to arrange delivery of his prize, a copy of WCCL's Novel in a Month.

There were two runners-up in this contest, both of whom came within a single vote of the winner. Both Annvh and kk should consider themselves Highly Commended, therefore. I'm sorry there was only one prize! Here are their entries:

Never Again
by Annvh

Jenny's eyelids remained defiantly shut, ignoring the insistent beep of her alarm clock. As she eased one arm from beneath her duvet to tap the snooze button, her hand brushed against a package lying on the pillow next to her. Consciousness surfaced with jagged shafts of light flickering at the edge of her vision; the precursor of a blinding migraine; and images of last night's excesses forced her eyes wide open.

"Well, open the envelope," a teasing, jocular voice called from the doorway. "It'll help you remember."

Photos, of bits she didn't know she had.

"Call it a hangover cure."

Kids Rule!
by kk

We met at Fenway Park, huge fans of the Red Sox, never missing a game; a precursor to falling in love. We married; had babies. Life together was perfect; agreeing on everything - where we lived; children; life was good.

Finding that envelope with the photo of him and Marybeth - together - like that - it nearly killed me. Nothing could have prepared me. Devastated, I confronted him one fateful day.

"What's this?" I demanded, presenting the photo of little Marybeth; Yankees cap ruining her toddler's jocular innocence.

"Well," he replied, "I couldn't resist"; "As she says, 'Yankees rule, Red Sox drool.'"

Congratulations again to our winner and runners-up, and thank you to everyone else who entered. For those who are interested, on my forum post I have attached a separate Word file including all the entries, listed anonymously. See if you agree with the judges or not!

The results of Tuesday's challenge will be published on the Writing Games and Challenges board tomorrow. Note that I will not be publishing the results on this blog every day this week as well - I have a few other things I want to blog about - but I will include a round-up of all the winners on Friday.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Coming Soon to This Blog: Kristin Callender

Just wanted to let you know that next Thursday, 19 March, I will be welcoming US author Kristin Callender to this blog.

Kristin is visiting my blog as part of her virtual book tour to launch her novel The Truth Lies in the Dark.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is a mystery about Amanda, who has no memory of her life as a child. Raised by her protective grandparents, she knows only what they have told her about her past and her family. But reoccurring nightmares tell her something different, and leave her feeling like a stranger in her own mind. Then her grandfather leaves her an unfinished letter that confirms her doubts and fears. As she begins to search for her true identity she finds that everyone in her life has been keeping a life-changing secret from her, even her loving husband, Nick. In the end she must answer the two most important questions: Who is trying to help her, and who is trying to make sure the truth remains 'in the dark'?

In her post, Kristin will be talking about how she came to write her book, and passing on her tips for new novelists. She will also be revealing her three favorite websites (something I like to ask all my visiting authors!).

You can read more about Kristin and her novel on her website, and also discover where else she is visiting on her tour.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is available from Amazon.com and it is also the featured title of the month from her publishers, Blue Water Press.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Amazon Vine Review: The Painted Man

I recently read and reviewed my latest book from the Amazon Vine programme. I thought perhaps you might be interested to see it.

The book in question is The Painted Man, by Peter V. Brett. It's the first book in a planned trilogy of fantasy novels. With certain minor reservations I found it an enjoyable read. Here's a (slightly edited) version of my review.

The Painted Man is the first book of Peter V. Brett's Demon Trilogy.

It follows the lives of three young people growing up in a world where demons are very much real rather than fantasy figures. They rise from the world's core at nightfall to attack human beings, who can only protect themselves by hiding behind 'wards' - magical sigils the demons cannot (usually) pass.

The three main characters are Arlen, a talented warder (drawer of wards), Leesha, a healer, and Rojer, a jongleur (travelling minstrel). All three feel destiny pulling at them to finally rid their world of the demon plague.

Peter V. Brett has crafted a compelling fantasy novel with some original ideas, generally sympathetic characters, and an absorbing, fast-paced plot.

The Painted Man is decently written in a plain, unadorned style, though it is never going to win any literary awards. Brett's prose lacks the depth and lyrical qualities of, say, a Robin Hobb or a Robert Silverberg, two distinguished current fantasy world-weavers. There were also a few places where I felt the plotting creaked a bit, notably in the strand concerning Leesha.

Nonetheless, this is a promising debut by a new fantasy author. Anyone who enjoys reading an exciting adventure novel, without expecting it to be a literary masterpiece, is unlikely to be disappointed. I'll certainly be looking out for the second volume.


Here's a permalink to my review on Amazon.co.uk, in case you'd like to read it in situ. As ever, if you like the review, a 'Helpful' vote is always appreciated!

Finally, I've included image links to the book's sales pages at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com at the foot of this post. Note that, while The Painted Man is available from Amazon.co.uk now, the US version won't be available till March 2009 (and for some reason it will be called The Warded Man in the US). Note also that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.




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Monday, September 15, 2008

Short Story Radio Update

About a year ago I wrote this post about Short Story Radio, a new web-based radio station operating from the UK and devoted to recording and broadcasting original short stories.

Since then, I'm pleased to say, Short Story Radio has gone from strength to strength. The website now looks more professional, and they are starting to pay writers of stories featured on the site. Here is an update I received recently from Ian Skillicorn, the station manager...

Over the past year we have been developing relationships with writers and many writing organisations. The latest additions to the website are recordings from three winners of the New Writing Partnership's Escalator Prize, for writers in the East of England. This summer we redesigned the website and added some new features.

I am pleased to tell you that we are now in a position to pay a writers' fee for stories that will appear on the site. At present we are approaching writers ourselves rather than taking unsolicited stories, but hope to be able to have an open submission round in the near future.

Our next project is a series of short stories that have been recorded specifically for hospital radio and will be available to hospital radio stations around the UK and beyond. The first four stories will be available for radio, and on our website, later this month. They are by award winning writer Sue Moorcroft, whose stories have appeared in many national magazines, and are read by Tamara Kennedy, whose acting career includes 14 years in Take The High Road and roles in Taggart and Monarch of the Glen.


In addition, I noticed that Short Story Radio is currently running a competition for a short story of under 3000 words in one of the following categories: drama/romance, historical fiction/memoir, humour, magic realism, mystery/thriller, science fiction.

The first-prize winner will get their story professionally recorded for broadcast on Short Story Radio, a free website worth 250 UK pounds (around $400), and five CD copies of their story for personal use. The closing date is 31 October 2008.

There is an entry fee of 8 UKP (around $14) per story in this competition, which in my view is a bit on the steep side. However, stories for Short Story Radio are recorded by professional actors, and I guess their services don't come cheap!

If you enjoy writing - and reading/listening to - short stories, Short Story Radio is well worth checking out.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Review: Novel in a Month

Novel in a Month is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

Novel in a Month is written by Dan Strauss, Senior Editor of the WCCL Network and a successful author/novelist himself.

The course is provided on CD-ROM in the universal PDF format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Like all WCCL products, Novel in a Month is beautifully produced, and it has clearly been professionally written and edited. The main manual (I'll get to the bonuses later) takes you step by step through everything you need to know to write a novel in the shortest possible time. Not surprisingly, I guess, the method set out in Novel in a Month bears a close resemblance to the one I set out in Write Any Book in Under 28 Days (though, of course, the latter is aimed primarily at people who want to write a non-fiction book).

I don't suppose I'm giving away too much if I reveal that the system described in Novel in a Month involves writing your first draft in three weeks, then editing it in the fourth. There is also a preliminary stage of planning and outlining, which takes up the first day or two.

Novel in a Month is packed with hints, tips and guidelines for novelists. Among the things I particularly liked were the 'population index' chart for developing characters, and Dan's P.L.O.T. plotting method, neither of which I had seen before.

Indeed, I thought Novel in a Month was particularly strong on plot and plotting methods. As well as the P.L.O.T. system, the course includes five top tips for plotting your novel, six universal plot archetypes, and so forth. My only slight reservation concerns the index card system that Dan advocates as an aid to plotting. Don't get me wrong, it's a great system, but personally I'd much prefer to work on my PC rather than start fiddling about with bits of cardboard. Still, it wouldn't be hard to adapt Dan's system to something a little more 21st century.

Other areas discussed in depth include dialogue, characterization, pacing, editing, viewpoint, writing in scenes ('show, don't tell'), and descriptive writing. Dan (correctly) emphasizes the importance of economy of style and resisting the temptation to overwrite. I can't help thinking, however, that he might have chosen a better example of this art than the late US science fiction author Isaac Asimov, entertaining though some of his short stories undoubtedly are (have you tried reading any of his 'Foundation' novels, though?). Perhaps I'm being a bit picky, however!

In addition to the main guide, you get five additional bonus items. These are as follows:

1. Getting Dialogue Down - a mini-guide to writing convincing (and correctly punctuated) dialogue.

2. How to Get Free Publicity for Your Novel - a 15-page guide showing how to get your book promoted on a shoe-string budget.

3. How to Get Celebrity Endorsements for Your Novel - if you've bought my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course you'll know this already - but if not, the advice in this report will tell you exactly how to put this powerful technique to good use.

4. The Hottest Agents in the US and UK - this bonus guide contains over 40 pages of agent contact details, e-mail addresses, websites, guidelines, requirements, and so on.

5. 33 Techniques for Fine-Tuning Your Fiction - personally I think this is the most important and valuable of the bonuses. It shows you how to fine-tune your novel so that it stands out from the competition. Applying these 'advanced' techniques could make all the difference between having your book rejected and getting it accepted for publication.

Overall, Novel in a Month gets my recommendation as the most comprehensive course I have seen on writing a novel in the shortest possible time. If you are thinking of joining in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, it could be the ideal guide to have at your side and on your PC. But even if you don't intend to try writing a complete novel in a month, it would still be a very useful guide to plotting and writing your first best-seller!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Contributions wanted for The Forever Story

I've just heard about a new collaborative writing project called The Forever Story.

The project launches today and aims to create the world's longest collectively written story. There are no fees on offer for writers, however; instead the project aims to raise a large sum of money for children with autism.

The money will be donated by the telecoms company TalkTalk. For every contribution to the story via the website at www.theforeverstory.com, TalkTalk will donate 1 UK pound (around $2 US) to the British children's autism charity Treehouse. The project press release explains:

There are around 100,000 children with Autism in the UK, with around half a million family members directly affected by the condition. We want to raise awareness of the work Treehouse does to alleviate the often huge financial and emotional pressures associated with looking after a child with Autism and raise the much needed money so their work can continue.

TalkTalk's donation target is 50,000 UKP, and to achieve that they are giving people the opportunity to write alongside some very well-known writers. The first 35 words have been written by Nick Hornby (author of About A Boy and other popular books and novels) and are as follows:

For the first nineteen years of his life, Johnny Razor wasn't Johnny Razor at all. He was Malcolm Weatherly, and he was born in Mile End Underground station on the night of 17th September 1940.

Anyone is welcome to continue the story by adding another 35 words or so at the website www.theforeverstory.com. Do just be sure to read (and/or listen to) as many of the preceding contributions as possible, so that your contribution fits in and makes sense.


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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Free Short Story Contest

I thought some of you might be interested in this free short story contest, which is sponsored by the DIY self-publishing company Wordclay.

They are actually running two parallel contests, one for a single short story and the other for a short story collection. To enter the latter, you have to have enough short stories to fill the pages of a 48-page book. The maximum length for a single story is 5,000 words.

There are some good prizes on offer for a free contest, including $500 for the winner in each category and $250 for the runner-up. There are also prizes of publication in book form by the sponsors for the other short-listed entries. You do have to register at the site before you can enter, but there is no obligation to buy anything. The closing date is 11.59 pm ET on 31 May 2008 (i.e. before 1 June 2008), so you have about a week to get your story (or stories) in. Once again, here is a link for further details.

Good luck if you decide to enter this contest!

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Hardline Online Magazine Open for Contributions

Hardline Magazine is a new monthly online publication created by and for writers. It features both fiction and non-fiction writing: short stories, poetry, reviews and articles.

Hardline Magazine is co-edited by two members of my forum, Steve Sweeney and Ken Preston. The poetry editor is Amie Saramelkonian (whom forum members may know better as our moderator Saturnine).

The magazine exists primarily to showcase the work of unpublished, and self published, writers. It's free to view, and they are not currently paying any fees to contributors. There are, however, plans to run a contest in each issue, with prizes for the winning authors.

Even though it is non-paying, the editors are adamant that quality will be key to the success of the magazine. They write: 'Hardline has to be a project that bears the hallmark of quality - it will benefit no-one if the quality of writing is negligible. So, if you are going to submit a piece of work to Hardline, be it fiction or nonfiction, it needs to be tight, well-written and compelling. Hardline needs to showcase good writing if it's to gain attention, and a reading audience - please help us to help you. We eagerly await your contributions.'

Hardline Magazine is already attracting interest from established authors and publishers, thanks partly to groups that have been set up at the major social networking sites such as Bebo, Facebook, Technorati, and (especially) MySpace. According to Steve Sweeney, even before its official launch the Hardline Magazine website was attracting around 100 'hits' a day, and this figure is sure to go on rising.

If you are interested in submitting work to Hardline Magazine - and Steve has just put out a call for short stories for issue two - take a look at the launch issue, then go to the Contact page to see where your submissions and enquiries should be directed. Note that Hardline Magazine will soon be moving to a new, permanent home at www.hardlinemagazine.com.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More Interviews on WritersFM

My colleague Karl Moore of the online radio station WritersFM has been extremely busy. As I mentioned in this post, he recently interviewed the British author Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and a dozen other published novels.

Well, now in short order he has added two more interviews. The first is with Jean Macleod, the 100-year old Mills & Boon romance author. Karl chats with her about her 130 novels, life during the war, and the secret to longevity!

And the other new interviewee is Francine Silverman, author of "Book Marketing from A-Z" and editor of the Book Promotion Newsletter. As you might expect, Francine offers some great advice on getting your book into the spotlight.

To hear any of these interviews, you can either wait for them to come round on the station's normal rotation, download them as podcasts, or (probably the easiest option) stream them from the radio station's Podcasts page. As with all WritersFM broadcasts, you will need to have a broadband/DSL Internet connection. WritersFM doesn't work on dial-up, I'm afraid!

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Joanne Harris Interview on WritersFM

As mentioned recently in this blog post, Joanne Harris is the latest big-name writer to be interviewed on WritersFM, WCCL's Internet radio station for writers.

Joanne Harris is the British author of around a dozen novels, the most famous of which is Chocolat, which was also made into a film starring Juliette Binoche. Her latest novel, Runemarks, published in August 2007, is her first book for children and young adults. Her official website is at www.joanne-harris.co.uk, or clicking on any of the links from her name in this post will take you to the Wikipedia article about her.

The WritersFM Interview with Joanne was conducted by the station manager, Karl Moore, as usual. The interview runs to about an hour and is entertaining as well as being informative. As you might expect of a former school-teacher, Joanne is a clear and articulate interviewee.

Fans of Joanne Harris will particularly enjoy listening as she talks about her various books, and Chocolat in particular. As mentioned previously, I've only read one Joanne Harris novel so far, Gentlemen and Players, but I definitely plan to read some of her other books now. Actually, though, I thought the last twenty minutes or so of the interview were the most interesting, where Joanne talks about her writing methods and offers some tips for aspiring novelists. I recommend having a pen and paper in hand when listening to this!

To hear the interview, you can either wait for it to come around on the station's normal rotation, download it as a podcast, or (probably the easiest option) stream it from the radio station's Podcasts page. As with all WritersFM broadcasts, you will need to have a broadband/DSL Internet connection.

Happy listening!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

What would YOU ask Joanne Harris?

My colleague Karl Moore of the online radio station WritersFM needs your help!

He has managed to line up an interview with the British author Joanne Harris this Thursday, 20 March. And he has asked me to put out a request to readers of my blog for any questions he can ask her.

For those who may not know, Joanne Harris is the author of around a dozen novels, perhaps the most famous of which is Chocolat, which was also made into a film starring Juliette Binoche. Her latest novel, Runemarks, published in 2007, is her first book for children and young adults. Her official website is at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/, or clicking on any of the links from her name in this post will take you to the Wikipedia article about her.

I must admit that I haven't read Chocolat or seen the film. I did, however, read her more recent novel Gentlemen and Players on holiday a couple of years ago. I enjoyed reading it, although I guessed the "surprise twist" about a quarter of the way through! If you haven't read it, though, I do recommend it as an enjoyable thriller with some memorable characters and a good evocation of life at a minor English public school. I've put a link to the relevant page at Amazon.co.uk below...


Anyway, if you have any questions you would like Karl to put to Joanne Harris, do drop him a line. Write to him at karl AT karlmoore.com (changing the AT for the usual @ sign). Put his name ("Karl Moore") in the subject line, to avoid your email being blocked by his spam filters.

If you want to listen to the interview, it will be online at WritersFM on Friday 21 March, or very soon afterwards. And if you'd like more info about WritersFM, please see my recent blog post about the radio station.

Happy listening!

UPDATE! - I've just heard from Karl that unfortunately he has the flu, so his interview with Joanne has had to be put back to next Friday (28 March). So you still have time to send him any questions you would like asked! I'll let you know on this blog when the interview is available on WritersFM.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Free Short Story Contest

I recently heard about a new short story contest which, unusually, is free to enter. It's being run by Claire C (sorry, I don't know her full name) of the Bebo Author blog. Full details of the contest can be found by clicking on Bebo Author Short Story Competition.

The contest is for stories of at least 1000 words. There is no maximum word count, although as it IS a short story contest, I'd guess you probably shouldn't go over 10,000 words.

The contest is open to anyone - you don't have to be a member of the social networking site Bebo - and stories can be in almost any genre. Claire says: 'I don't want to restrict you but I don't want literotica or gore with the sole intention of making me sick.'

A variety of prizes is on offer. They include $50, $30 and $20 Amazon vouchers (or the equivalent in cash paid via Paypal), plus a growing range of other prizes donated by sponsors.

The contest judges are professional writer Samantha Priestley and Catherine Sharp, a technical writer who runs her own blog, Sharp Words. The closing date is Friday 21 March 2008 (so you don't have loads of time!). Stories have to be sent to Claire in the body of an email (no attachments) at claire-at-beboauthor.com (change the -at- to the usual @ sign). For more info, as mentioned, click through to the contest information page.

Good luck!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Station Shorts Anthology Published

I'm delighted to reveal that Station Shorts, an anthology of short fiction by members of my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com, has just been published on Lulu.com. You can visit the sales page here.

As the name suggests, all the stories in Station Shorts are set in the mysterious Station. This is a vast concourse occupied by fictional characters, both well known and unknown, whose authors are taking a break (or blocked) and don't therefore require them.

The idea was originally conceived by forum member Jeanette, and enthusiastically adopted by other members around the world (including the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand). This book represents the culmination of all their efforts.

The overall standard of work in Station Shorts is amazingly high (and no, I don't have any stories in it myself, though I did contribute a Foreword). You can read a sample story by 'Gyppo' titled If You Ain't Drinking... by clicking on Preview This Book on the Lulu.com sales page.

Finally, I should mention that Station Shorts is a 227-page printed book, and it is on sale at the very modest price of $10.80 US or 5.95 UK pounds, plus postage to anywhere in the world. All profits - not that there will be many at this price! - will be donated to the human rights charity Amnesty International.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Try Your Hand at Hypertext Fiction

Fiction writers have long (in Internet terms) been fascinated by the potential of the Internet as a medium for publishing fiction.

In particular, the ease by which it is possible to move from web page to web page via hyperlinks has led some writers to experiment in creating hypertext fiction, where readers can actively explore a story - and find different ways through it - using hyperlinks.

Programming your own hypertext fiction website isn't a task for the faint-hearted. But recently I heard from Jeremy Ashkenas about his Hypertextopia website, which provides a platform that anyone is free to use to try creating their own hypertext fiction (and, indeed, non-fiction).


Writing in Hypertextopia consists of creating so-called fragments and shards, moving them around on the screen, and drawing links between them (see picture above). It's a little like working with mind maps. Once you've written a Hypertextopia work, it can be presented via the site's Grand Library.

It's easier to try Hypertextopia for yourself than it is to explain it, so if you're interested in this concept, click on Hypertextopia and start by exploring some of the works that have already been published. In the case of at least one of them - Playground - you can log in anonymously and try editing the story yourself. This really does blur the distinction between reading and writing!

Hypertextopia is an intriguing project that can open your eyes to the potential of hypertext fiction, even though the quality of work published on the site so far is variable. At times I found the terminology used a little baffling, but the longer you explore and experiment in Hypertextopia, the better you come to understand it. If you're a fiction writer and fascinated by the potential of hypertext fiction, it's definitely worth a look.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Write a TV Ad for a Book!

In my blog last year I mentioned a contest held by thriller writer Dean Koontz to promote his new book The Good Guy. Contestants had to write and produce a 30-second video trailer for the book. All entries appeared on the video-sharing site YouTube, and as far as I know the winning entry was broadcast on US TV.

Well, UK publishers Little, Brown have decided to use a similar method to promote the new crime novel by the American author Patricia Cornwell, Book of the Dead. They are running a competition for people to create a 20-second TV ad for this book. Entrants have to shoot their own 20-second video, and/or submit a script and/or a storyboard for an ad (so you can still enter even if you don't own a video camera). The contest is only open to people in the UK and Eire, unfortunately, and you must be over 18.

Submissions must include a product shot (included in the competition kit) for a minimum of 5 seconds, so you really only have to come up with a 15-second advertisement. There is a top prize of 2500 UK pounds for the winning entry, which will be chosen by Patricia Cornwell herself from a shortlist of six.

For more details, and to download a competition kit, visit www.bookofthedead.hyptv.com. The closing date is Friday 29 February.

Good luck!

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Representing Thoughts in Fiction

One of those queries that crops up regularly on my forum is how you should represent a character's thoughts in fiction. Here's my take on the subject...

First of all, this is a stylistic matter, not one of grammar. There is no single "correct" way to punctuate or otherwise represent a character's thoughts. Some authors put them in quotation marks, others use italics. I've even seen thoughts put in parentheses or ALL CAPS, though I certainly don't recommend that!

In fact, the most common approach nowadays is to avoid using any special punctuation or formatting to represent thoughts, and that is the style I would strongly recommend.

A crucial point here is that most stories today are written in scenes portrayed through the eyes of a single viewpoint character, whether first person (I) or third person (he/she). In such cases there is no need for any extra punctuation to signify a character's thoughts. The whole scene is, in effect, the thoughts and perceptions of the 'viewpoint' character. The example below - written in a third-person limited viewpoint - may illustrate why extra punctuation for thoughts is usually unnecessary.

"What time is it?" Julia asked.
That's the third time you've asked me in the last twenty minutes, John thought. Still, he checked his watch. "Five to eight," he said.
"Why aren't they here?" Julia asked. She stared at him. "Do you think they've been in an accident?"
"I doubt it," John replied. "Probably they just got held up in the traffic." Unless Pete's car has broken down again, he thought to himself.

If you tried putting quotation marks around the thoughts in this passage, you would end up with almost everything in quotes, and total confusion over whether the character was speaking or thinking. In general, the problem with using inverted commas around a character's thoughts is (a) it makes the text look cluttered, and (b) it invites confusion with speech.

So what about the alternative of using italics for thoughts? Yes, you can do this, but as mentioned above, when a scene is written from a limited viewpoint anyway (as is usually the case in modern fiction), there is no need to represent thoughts any differently from the rest of the text. And if it's unnecessary, why do it?

Using italics to represent thoughts also has a number of drawbacks. You are likely to waste a lot of time agonising over whether a particular line is a thought or a description. You will end up with much of your text in italics, which looks ugly and distracting. And finally, you will lose the option of using italics when, for some dramatic reason, extra emphasis is required.

So my advice is clear. NEVER use quotation marks for thoughts. If it's absolutely necessary to indicate thoughts in a special way, use italics (but mostly this shouldn't be required). And keep italics for their proper purpose, which is providing extra emphasis.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Flash Fiction Contest Results

I'm pleased to announce that the winners of the WCCL Flash Fiction Contest have been decided. To remind you, the contest was to write a short story in exactly 100 words, which included the six words mirror, subliminal, genius, white, cliff and clepsydra. In addition, entrants were asked to provide a title for the story of up to 15 words, which didn't count towards the 100 words for the story. The prizes for the three winning entries were copies of the full version of the popular WriteItNow novel-writing software from Ravenshead Services.

The contest was judged by me and my colleague Karl Moore, the managing director of WCCL. Overall, we were impressed with the standard of the entries, and in particular by the many ingenious methods that were used to incorporate the six key words, especially clepsydra. As you will know if you followed the hyperlink, a clepsydra is an ancient water clock, though if we had a suitable consolation prize to award, it would go to the contestant who decided to make it the name of an alien race!

Karl and I were looking for stories that, even in just 100 words, engaged us both intellectually and emotionally. Ideally we wanted to read stories where the six key words fitted into the story in a natural and unobtrusive way, rather than standing out like beacons. And, of course, we wanted stories that were well written, adhered to the 100 word requirement, and had been checked for spelling and grammatical mistakes. I'm pleased to say that our three winning stories, which I'll reveal shortly, met all of these requirements.

One small criticism concerns the number of entrants who failed to follow the rules set out in my original post, in particular the following, which I am copying verbatim: "Include the story in the body of your email (no attachments), and put the title of your story in the subject line. Please do NOT put anything else in the email apart from your story, as we will be judging the contest anonymously." I was surprised and disappointed by the number of people who failed to observe some or all of these rules. As we only had around 50 entries we decided in most cases not to disqualify these stories, but it made judging the contest anonymously (and therefore fairly) much more difficult. Judges in other contests may not be as forgiving as we were on this occasion, so please, if rules are set out, do try to observe them.

OK, that's the end of my mini-rant! Here then - in no particular order - are the names of the winning entries and their authors, followed by the stories themselves.

Long Distance by Anitra Budd
Magic to Die For by Amanda Hyatt
The Visions of My Life, as Seen Through Eyes That Grow Dim With Age by Shirla White

LONG DISTANCE

"White Cliff Palace." The voice was a Manhattan, all smoke and clinking ice.

"Mom? It's me."

"I know who it is, sweetheart." The subliminal murmurs of her clepsydra played in the background. "Now, what does my little genius want?"

"Just making sure you're alive."

"Charlie, save the sermon. I'm completely, utterly happy with my life and I don't intend to change. So you've got two choices: accept me, or go to hell and stop calling." Click.

No Mom, I thought as I slid to the restroom floor. There's another way. My fingers began redialing the numbers scrawled on the mirror.

MAGIC TO DIE FOR

I gazed in the mirror and marvelled at what subliminal lies lay submerged in the blurred reflection there. "A pretty face," they used to say, and "What beautiful hair." I'd come to believe them - even to see what they saw. Until Arthur. Clever, handsome Arthur. Genius - even in his beatings. But who was the genius now? I could see his white shirt, unbuttoned, blowing gaily as he stood on the cliff face, unaware that, like a clepsydra, the ebbing tide measured his final moments. I flung the white-shirted straw doll into the wind and watched him leap to his fate.

THE VISIONS OF MY LIFE, AS SEEN THROUGH EYES THAT GROW DIM WITH AGE

As my days grow shorter now, I am subliminally drawn to the mirror again. Here I can look back on my past. The vision of a young girl with long brown hair and enormous hazel eyes flits in and out of view. The white dress she wears billows in the wind as she laughs and plays.

This girl soon vanishes, and in her place is a weather worn cliff side manor. An ancient clepsydra in the court yard still measures the passing of time; the genius of this timekeeper still intrigues me.

Soon my visions fade, and I'm alone again.

The other short-listed entries were as follows. No prizes for their authors, I'm afraid, but all are highly commended:

Leap of Faith by Cherry Walker
At 98% of the Speed of Light, Your Clock Can Kill You! by Mark Jensen
Cliff's World by Constance Gardner
An Interlude by Nigel Edwards
The Curse of the Ancient Clepsydra by David Fredrickson

Congratulations to the winning and short-listed writers, and commiserations to those who did not win on this occasion. I hope all of you enjoyed entering the contest, and it will perhaps have stimulated your interest in writing these ultra-short stories. If so, there are many websites devoted to the form that you might like to check out - just enter "Flash Fiction" in a search engine such as Google and thousands of such sites will be listed.

Happy flash fiction writing!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Flash Fiction Contest Deadline Approaching!

I just wanted to remind you that the WCCL Flash Fiction Contest closes in two days time, on 31 August 2007 at 12 noon GMT.

The contest is to write a short story in exactly 100 words - no more, no less - which includes the following six words: mirror, subliminal, genius, white, cliff, clepsydra. In addition, you will need to provide a title of up to 15 words (this does not count towards the 100 words for the story).

Entry is free, and the best three stories submitted will win prizes of the popular WriteItNow novel-writing software from Ravenshead Services. This is the full version, which normally sells for $39.62 (US Dollars) or 19.95 UK Pounds. The winning stories will also be published on my blog and forum.

For full details of the contest, and how to enter, please click on this link. The results will be announced by the end of September. I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying that so far we have only received about 40 entries, so if you can come up with a compelling 100-word story that meets all the requirements set out above, you really do have every chance of scooping a prize.

Good luck, and happy flash fiction writing!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Short Story Radio Open for Submissions

Short Story Radio is a new Internet radio station seeking short stories to be professionally recorded and broadcast via the website. Here's an extract from an email about the service I received from the station manager, Ian Skillicorn:

We invite writers to submit previously unpublished stories and we choose a selection of the best to be recorded and broadcast on our website. All our chosen stories are recorded by professional actors; with music added for extra atmosphere, each recorded story is brought to life by our creative team.

There is no fee for submitting a story and recording and transmission fees for chosen stories are paid for by shortstoryradio.com.

Stories are available to listeners for six months and the writers of chosen stories receive a profile in the Our Writers section of the website. Visitors to shortstoryradio.com are increasing every week. We have had over 40,000 visitors to the website since we began in 2006. Many of our listeners are fellow writers and we also have thousands of English Language students from around the world who like to listen to our stories to practise their listening comprehension skills, while being entertained at the same time.

I checked out the website myself. I'd have to say I don't think it looks as professional as WCCL's Internet radio station WritersFM, but when I tried listening to some of the stories I was favourably impressed. Short Story Radio uses a neat little online audio player which seems to work very well, and the recording quality of the stories is excellent.

One thing that did concern me a bit was that writers do not get paid for having their stories broadcast on Short Story Radio. I asked Ian about this, and he replied as follows:

I appreciate your query about fees for writers. We aim to provide a platform for writers to have a professional broadcast of their story that otherwise would not be possible, which is why rather than offering a fee, we are covering all costs including bandwith, recording, editing, music clearance etc. With all these associated costs it simply wouldn't be possible to pay for stories and keep the website going. However, as we grow we do hope to explore commercial opportunities for the stories, through which everyone involved could be paid royalties.

So there you are. If you're looking for a platform for your short stories and don't mind not getting paid, Short Story Radio is worth checking out. Submissions are being accepted from now till September 12 2007 - here's a direct link to the submissions page. Although in general I think writers should be paid for their efforts, I can understand that funds may be tight at the moment. Hopefully as the service becomes more established, Short Story Radio may be able to start offering payments to their writers.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

WCCL Flash Fiction Contest

I'm pleased to announce that my publishers WCCL, in association with Ravenshead Services, are running a flash fiction contest. What we want you to do is write a short story in exactly 100 words - no more, no less - which includes the following six words: mirror, subliminal, genius, white, cliff, clepsydra. In addition, you will need to provide a title of up to 15 words (this does not count towards the 100 words for the story).

Entry is free, and the best three stories submitted will win prizes of the popular WriteItNow novel-writing software from Ravenshead Services. This is the full version, which normally sells for $39.62 (US Dollars) or 19.95 UK Pounds. The winning stories will also be published on my blog and forum.

WriteItNow is available for both PCs and Macs. Among its many features, it includes a built-in word processor to write and store a complete novel (or novels). It will also keep background details of characters, events, locations and ideas, display charts of events and relationships, generate characters, names and ideas, and much more. It's basically a complete, all-in-one tool for planning, organizing and writing your novel. If you wish, you can download a free demo version from the WriteItNow website. This can do everything the full version can, except save stories and use add-ons.

I will be judging the contest myself, with a little help from my colleague Karl Moore at WCCL. We will be looking for a complete, entertaining and beautifully written short story, in which every one of the 100 words really does count. For more advice on writing flash fiction, check out the Wikipedia article referenced above, and also this excellent short article by Jason Gurley on the Writing World website. Don't forget that you must include the six words mentioned above as well!

The competition closing date is 31 August 2007 at 12 noon GMT, so you have plenty of time to get your entry in. Please send it by email to Contest-at-nickdaws.co.uk (change the -at- for the usual @ symbol). Include the story in the body of your email (no attachments), and put the title of your story in the subject line. Please do NOT put anything else in the email apart from your story, as we will be judging the contest anonymously. Only one entry is allowed per person.

The winning entrants will be notified at the email address they used to submit the story after judging has been completed, which will be at the end of September. Please don't use an email address you know you will be changing in the next two months, therefore!

If you have any queries or comments about this contest, don't send them to the email address above, as this is for contest entries only and messages will not be read until after the contest closing date. Please post them on my forum at the following topic: http://www.mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=9924.0

It just remains for me to wish you the very best of luck!

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Potter Day - Almost Here!

Well, I've ordered my copy from Amazon - have you ordered yours?!

The final volume in J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, goes on sale this weekend, and pundits are confidently predicting that it will be the fastest-selling book ever. The publishers announced a record-breaking 12 million copies for the first print run in the United States alone.

The massive sales, along with associated merchandising and film rights, will add to Rowling's already substantial personal fortune. In February 2004, Forbes magazine estimated this as 576 million UK pounds, making her the first person to become a billionaire (in US dollar terms) by writing books. By now, she must be well on the way to being a billionaire in UK Sterling terms as well.

When Rowling wrote her first book - only around ten years ago - she was a single mother living on welfare in a mouse-infested flat in Edinburgh. She was so poor she couldn't afford to heat her flat in the winter, so by day she sat in a local coffee shop with her baby daughter, nursing an espresso for hours as she worked on her manuscript. Rowling achieved her huge success despite these obstacles. It's one of the (many) great things about writing that there is no reason why anyone with hard work (and a little luck and talent) could not be as successful as she is.

And yes, I'm a Harry Potter fan, like most of the population. OK, she may not be the world's greatest literary stylist (though in my view she is still a very good writer). And many of the ideas in her books may not be entirely original. But her great talent is to write brilliantly constructed stories that grip the imaginations of readers of all ages. She has been widely credited with restoring the interest of children (and boys in particular) in reading, and that alone is a considerable accomplishment.

J.K. Rowling has said that she won't be writing any more Harry Potter novels, so I will be waiting with interest to see what she does next. With her great talent for storytelling, however, I'd expect to see her turn at some point to movie and TV scriptwriting. One thing is certain, whatever she does next, a little of the Harry Potter magic is certain to rub off on it!

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Using Trademarked Terms in Fiction

A question that arises quite regularly on my forum is whether it's OK for writers to use trademarked terms in novels and short stories. In this topic posted the other day a member wanted to know if it would be OK to use the term Frisbee in her novel.

Meaning no disrespect to forum members, I have to say it's absurd to suggest that writers can never use trademarked terms. If that was the case, spies could never drive Aston Martins - they would have to use sports convertibles. And you could never have your hero popping into his local Macdonalds - it would have to be the Happy Burger Emporium, or some other made-up name.

Of course, I'm no lawyer. But if you look at some publishers' guidelines, you can gauge their views on the matter. To begin, here's a quote from the guidelines of Pearson Education:

"Use of a trademark in the text of a book that discusses or describes the product sold under the mark is considered a form of fair use and permission is not required."
Source: http://tinyurl.com/25794v

And here's a quote from the University of Colorado Style Guide:

"Many words and names are legally trademarked and should appear with initial capitals to acknowledge that fact. Also owners of such trademarks have a legal right to restrict the use of those trademarked terms to their specific product. As a result, avoid using trademarked names, like Kleenex and Xerox, as generic terms. Instead, use facial tissue and photocopier, unless you intend to refer to the trademarked brand name. A good dictionary will tell you whether commonly used words are trademarked and will also indicate if a trademarked term should be capitalized."
Source: http://tinyurl.com/2dd5pw

As these quotes indicate, there is generally no objection to using a trademarked term to describe an item in your book. You would need to give it an initial capital, and not use the term generically (e.g. in the case of Frisbee, mentioned earlier, as though it describes any flying plastic disk). As the first of the quotes above states, simply using a trademarked term descriptively in this way is regarded legally as "fair use".

Of course, if you are speaking disparagingly about a particular product or service, you may need to take care that you do not fall foul of the libel laws. However, in most instances that is unlikely, and if you do need to describe a badly designed product (say) in your novel, it might be prudent to give it an imaginary name or keep the manufacturer vague. Even so, a novel is quite different from a non-fiction book. If it is essential to your artistic vision for your hero to suffer a bout of food poisoning after visiting his local Macdonalds, you should not be afraid of writing it this way.

This matter of trademarks seems to worry many new authors, but in my view it's really not such a big deal. I can't think of a single actual case where an author has been prosecuted just for using a trademarked term. Bear in mind, too, that publishers have editors and legal departments whose job it is to worry about these matters. If they think there is a serious concern with what you have written, they will tell you (and ask for changes). And in the highly unlikely event that the company in question decides to sue, they will target the publisher rather than the author (they know most authors don't have any money!).

As writers, I believe it's important that we portray the world as realistically as possible. Part of that involves giving sharp, precise descriptions, and using trademarked terms is sometimes necessary to achieve this. As long as it is done in that spirit and the basic guidelines I have mentioned above are followed, I think it is highly unlikely you will encounter any problems.

Finally, if you want an example of a novel where the author uses trademarked terms with total abandon, take a look at Jennifer Government by the Australian author Max Barry. In this satirical, dystopian science fiction novel, the world is in the control of large corporations such as Adidas, and workers take on the surnames of the company that employs them. One of the key characters in the book, Hack Nike, is told by his employer that as part of his job he must shoot a number of teenagers, to generate hysterical news coverage about the company's new line of trainers.

OK, I am still faintly amazed that Barry and his publishers got away with this, but he has a nice disclaimer at the start of the book which concludes, "Any resemblance to actual people is coincidental and the use of real company and product names is for literary effect only and definitely without permission." So that's all right then!

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Tense in Fiction

One thing all fiction writers try to achieve is a sense in the reader that the events described are taking place as he or she reads about them.

So it's a bit of a paradox that most novels and short stories are written in the past rather than the present tense. And yet, for reasons that go back to the origins of storytelling, past tense sounds more natural to us when reading or listening to a story. We don't notice the tense and - with a well-written tale - simply become immersed in the events unfolding.

You can, of course, write a story in the present tense. Because this is less familiar to readers, however, they may feel less comfortable with it, and there is a risk they will notice the unusual style rather than becoming engrossed in your story. Stories written in the present tense can also look mannered and self-conscious.

Of course, good writers can and do write short stories, and even novels, in the present tense. The US writer Alison Lurie's novel Foreign Affairs begins as follows:
On a cold, blowy February morning a woman is boarding the ten a.m. flight to London, followed by an invisible dog. The woman's name is Virginia Miner: she is fifty-four years old, small, plain and unmarried - the sort of person that no one ever notices, though she is an Ivy League college professor who has published several books and has a well-established reputation in the expanding field of children's literature.
And the whole novel continues in the present tense. It's an unusual approach, yet as a reader you quickly get used to it (it helps that Ms Lurie is a highly accomplished author, of course). I'd be hard put to say exactly why the author chose to write the book in the present tense or whether it would be any the worse if written more conventionally in the past. It does certainly give the novel a distinctive "voice", however.

Even so, I'd always advise a new writer, and especially a new novelist, to write in the past tense. Apart from anything else it's what publishers are accustomed to, and if you write in the present tense you are giving yourself an additional obstacle to overcome to get your work accepted.

Another problem with writing in the present tense is that it's fatally easy to stray into the past tense by accident. As I mentioned above, we're all so used to past tense narration, it's easy to fall into it without even noticing. A story that switches to past tense in the middle (unless for a very good reason) then switches back to the present again is likely to be returned to the author in short order.

And finally, if you write in the present tense, you need to be very careful when referring to events that occurred in the characters' past. In ordinary, past-tense narration, we use the pluperfect tense to introduce such "flashbacks":
Mary smiled and sipped her tea, remembering when they first met. It had been a cold November morning...
If using the present tense, however, you need to use the simple past tense instead:
Mary sighs and sips her tea, remembering when they first met. It was a cold November morning...
It would be perilously easy to write "It had been" in the second example as well, yet this would be incorrect, or at least very poor style. If you are writing in the present tense, when referring to events in your characters' past, you should use the simple past tense rather than the pluperfect (past participle with "had").

To sum up, then, I highly recommend sticking to the past tense in your fiction. But if you want to experiment with writing in the present tense, be very careful you don't switch to the wrong tense at some point in the narrative. It's possible to make this mistake when writing in the past tense, of course, but it's much, much easier to get your tenses in a twist when writing in the present!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Opportunities for Writers

Several new opportunities for writers have been posted recently on the Writers Wanted board of my forum, so I thought I'd quickly run through them.

First up, my regular clients Lagoon are looking for a UK-based maths teacher or educational author to write a multiple-choice quiz book based on National Curriculum requirements. You will need a good knowledge of Key Stage 2 Maths.

If you are interested, apply to Nikole Bamford at nikolebamford-at-thelagoongroup.com. Obviously, change the -at- in the email address to the usual @ symbol.

Lagoon are leading publishers of novelty and quiz book titles. They pay a flat fee rather than royalties. I have written dozens of products for them over the years, and they are always a pleasure to work with. If you apply to Nikole, do say hello to her from me!

The second opportunity was posted by our long-standing member Smiley, and again it is most likely to be of interest to UK authors. Indeed, it will only be relevant if you live in the south-west (or are willing to move there), as the job is in Exeter. The advert is copied below:

Experience of creative writing? Strong proof reading skills? Passionate about the English language? If so read on...
We have an exciting and highly unusual opportunity for someone with strong language skills to join a growing company in their Exeter offices. You will be providing assistance to the Editorial Manager, and ideally will have some creative writing experience. A strong team ethic is required, along with some previous office administration experience for this busy and varied post. You will be liaising with clients, planning work schedules and writing short stories/activity books, etc. for a children's market. This is truly a unique opportunity for Exeter, and if you have a natural ability with words, or perhaps an English degree - don't delay - apply immediately!

Click on this link - kindly provided by Smiley - to visit the job site where this vacancy is being advertised. If you're looking for a full-time writing position and are lucky enough to live in the Exeter area, it should be your dream job, I'd have thought!

The next opportunity is open to anyone in the world. A US-based publishing house is currently seeking submissions of short stories from 2000 to 5000 words for a new anthology to be titled One Step Beyond: Rocking Tales of the Fantastical. As the name suggests, stories should be in the fantasy genre, with a rock 'n' roll element. This is a paying market, and the final deadline is October 1 (submissions by August 1 preferred). For more info, click here to visit the relevant topic on my forum.

Finally, my colleague Suzie Harris is in the process of launching her own online women's magazine. Quite a few forum members have already signed up as contributors, but if you're interested I'm sure it's not too late to get in touch! The magazine will be called Perfume and Lace, and the website is already up and running. Here's a link to the topic on my forum where the magazine is being discussed.

Good luck if you decide to apply for any of these opportunities!

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Monday, June 04, 2007

24-Hour Short Story Contest

If you enjoy writing short stories, here's a contest with a difference that may interest you.

The contest is run by the freelance writing ezine Writers Weekly. The difference (compared with most such contests) is that the topic will not be made known to writers until 24 hours before the deadline. In other words, once you know the topic required, you will then have just 24 hours to write and submit your story.

There are a lot of things I like about this contest. One is that it is limited to just 500 entries (once that figure has been reached, no further pre-registrations will be accepted). In addition, there are over 85 prizes, so you really do have a decent chance of winning something. And finally, the entry fee is a modest $5 (about 2.50 UK pounds), and anyone in the world is welcome to enter.

As with the contest theme, the word count will not be revealed until 24 hours before the deadline. The organisers say that this is to stop people writing their story in advance, then just making a few minor changes to incorporate the set topic.

The start time for the next quarterly contest is 28 July 2007 at 12:00 p.m. (noon) Central Time. If you fancy a writing challenge - and know you will have some time available on 28/29 July! - in my view it's well worth checking out this contest. Don't forget, though, to scroll down the contest information page to read the FAQs and tips for entrants.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Bernard Cornwell Interview on WritersFM

As mentioned recently on this blog, Bernard Cornwell is the latest big-name writer to be interviewed on WritersFM, WCCL's Internet radio station for writers.

Bernard is a prolific and popular British historical novelist. His best-known books feature the adventures of Richard Sharpe, an English soldier, and are set in the Napoleonic era. Many of the books were filmed for a TV series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV network. Other series written by Bernard Cornwell include 'The Starbuck Chronicles', set during the American Civil War, and his latest series 'The Saxon Stories', set in 9th century England.

The WritersFM Interview with Bernard was conducted by Karl Moore as usual, via the phone to Bernard at his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The interview runs to about an hour and is entertaining as well as being informative (it's actually the first WritersFM interview where I've laughed out loud in several places!).

Fans of Bernard Cornwell's books will particularly enjoy listening. Historical fiction isn't really my thing, but I was still fascinated as he talked about how he wrote his first novel. I won't spoil the story here, but it begins in the least likely way imaginable, with an American travel agents' trip to Northern Ireland. Bernard's story contains coincidences and strokes of fate (I won't say luck, because Bernard clearly grasped the opportunities fate threw at him) so amazing that if you read them in a book you would dismiss them as utterly implausible - yet in Bernard's case they actually happened. The story of how he met his agent is pretty amazing too, and reveals the importance to a writer of being persistent!

You can either wait for Bernard's interview to be broadcast on the station's normal rotation, download it as a podcast, or (probably the easiest option) stream it from the Podcasts page. And if you'd like to find out more about Bernard, check out his web page at www.bernardcornwell.net - not, as you'll hear explained in the interview, .com!

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Two Essential Blogs for Screenwriters

If you're interested in screenwriting for TV or film, here are two blogs you really ought to have on your Favorites list...

As you might guess, JohnAugust.com is the blog of Hollywood scriptwriter John August. In it John answers questions about working as a movie scriptwriter (and occasionally covers other topics as well). In a recent post, he talked about how to introduce a character. Here's a brief extract to illustrate the quality of advice on offer:

Just how early can you tell a script isn't going to work? To me, it's as the first few characters are introduced. If character introductions are not done artfully, the odds of anything else in the script being great are slim.


The visitor sits beside the bed and Ripley finally notices him. He is thirtyish and handsome, in a suit that looks executive or legal, the tie loosened with studied casualness. A smile referred to as 'winning.'

MAN

Nice room. I'm Burke. Carter Burke.
I work for the company, but other
than that I'm an okay guy.
Glad to see you're feeling better.

That's James Cameron's terrific script for Aliens, page 3, the introduction of Paul Reiser's character. Even before Burke speaks, let's look at what Mr. Cameron told us:

Burke's rough age.
That he's decent-looking.
He's a "suit," but trying not to look like a suit.
He seems friendly - but there's something possibly false about it.

Burke's first lines of dialogue reinforce our expectation from the character description. "Yes, I work for the company, but I want you to think I'm on your side."


Apologies that the script sample I've reproduced above isn't as neatly formatted as on Mr August's blog, but I'm sure you get the idea. Please see the post in question for the full, properly set out version!

If TV scriptwriting is more your thing, Jane Espenson's blog should be high on your list. Jane has written episodes for many top-rated US TV series, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Gilmore Girls, Ellen, The O.C., Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dinosaurs, Andy Barker PI, and so on.

Jane says that her blog is intended 'to help new writers tackle the job of writing those all-important spec scripts - from picking the right show to spec, to developing an idea, to getting that dialogue exactly right, to giving the script that professional look.'

Here she is talking about writing specimen scripts:

Your spec script, even if it is for a show that is predominately arc-driven, will need to have at least some stand-alone elements. In fact, it should probably have as many stand-alone elements as you can get away with. So when you're looking at produced scripts, using them to try to put together a template for the structure of your spec, try to use stand-alone episodes as your examples as much as possible. If you're purchasing your scripts and can only afford a few, make them the most highly regarded episodes plus the stand-alone episodes.
As with John August's blog, Jane Espenson's is packed with helpful advice for aspiring screenwriters. Not only that, you even get to find out what she had for lunch each day!

Finally, just a quick reminder that if you're interested in screenwriting, my special offer on WCCL's Write a Movie in a Month course is still open. Not only do you get 20 dollars off the normal price, you also get three unique bonus items from me that are unavailable elsewhere. Just click on this link for full details.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Coming Soon on WritersFM

Two of the biggest-name writers yet are about to be interviewed on WritersFM - and YOU can help choose the questions they are asked!

First up is Syd Field, an American writer who has become one of the most popular screenwriting gurus in the movie industry. Syd has written several books on the art of screenwriting (see, for example, the link below), and holds workshops that help aspiring screenwriters to produce the kinds of screenplays that will sell in Hollywood. Syd's ideas about what makes a good script have become highly influential on Hollywood producers, who have increasingly used his ideas on structure as a guide to a proposed screenplay's potential.




If your interests include screenwriting, you MUST listen out for this interview. And if you have any suggestions for questions that WritersFM host Karl Moore should put to Syd, you can raise them via this topic on my forum.

The other forthcoming interviewee is Bernard Cornwell, the prolific and popular British historical novelist. Bernard's best known books feature the adventures of Richard Sharpe, an English soldier, and are set in the Napoleonic era. Many of the books were filmed for a television series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV network. Other series written by Bernard Cornwell include 'The Starbuck Chronicles', set during the American Civil War, and his latest series 'The Saxon Stories', set in 9th century England.

This interview should be essential listening for any aspiring novelists, and historical novelists in particular. Again, if there are any questions you would like Karl to put to Bernard, you can suggest them via this topic on my forum.

Finally, just a reminder that you can listen online to the most recent WritersFM interviews (including my own!) via the new LivePlay feature on the WritersFM Podcasts page. You can also download podcasts of all past interviews from this page.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Dash it all...

Recently I was re-reading a novel called To Die in Italbar by one of my favourite SF authors, the late, great Roger Zelazny.

There are many reasons I love Zelazny's work, and I'll talk more about this another time. Today I wanted to highlight a relatively minor aspect of his technique but (in my view) an interesting one for writers. It's the way Zelazny uses dashes to indicate a sudden change of direction in mid-speech. Here are a couple of examples from the book above, though I appreciate that taken out of context they may not make much sense:

"You're sure you won't take my money?"
"No, thanks. - May I go to the upper deck again after lunch, to see the volcano?"

And...

"There was no record of him with us either, though. - Look at that flare-up, will you?"

I've seen this device used by other writers as well, but re-reading Zelazny's book recently reminded me of it. I'm not saying it's an essential technique for writers, but used appropriately, and in moderation, it can help make your dialogue sound more life-like.

Of course, dashes are useful punctuation marks for other purposes as well. In pairs they can be used parenthetically, as an alternative to commas or brackets.

Here's an example - not an especially inspired one - of the parenthetical use of pairs of dashes.

There are no hard and fast rules about this, but I feel that dashes used in this way give more emphasis to the parenthesized material than commas or brackets would. They make it stand out that bit more.

Dashes are also handy if you want to show a sentence that suddenly goes off in a surprising or unexpected direction...

I bought a new car at the weekend - then abruptly wished I hadn't.

This is somewhat similar to the usage by Zelazny that I started off discussing here, of course.

One other very important use for dashes is to indicate a sentence that is interrupted or broken off abruptly...

"I need to ask you a -"
"- Favour? Forget it!"

By contrast, ending a speech with an ellipsis indicates that it simply trails away.

"That might be the place we are looking for, but then again..."

Incidentally, one question I'm often asked about dashes is how to present them on the page. My advice is to choose a convention you are happy with, and stick to it. Americans in particular often use two hyphens side by side to indicate a dash, or you can of course use the dashes produced by default in Microsoft Word when you type a spaced hyphen. But don't get hung up about en rules, em rules and such like - these are matters for editors and typesetters to concern themselves with, not authors. Indeed, at least one publisher's house style guide I have seen asks writers to represent all dashes with hyphens, and leave it to their editors to convert them to en rules or whatever.

Finally, much as I like dashes, it's important not to over-use them, or your writing will end up looking like 'notes'. Stick to using them for the specific purposes I have set out here, and you shouldn't go too far wrong. - Happy writing!

* If you have a blog and you haven't yet joined PayPerPost, you can get paid $7.50 to review this post on it! Just click on the banner below for more info...



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Monday, April 16, 2007

Cat Tales Wanted!

Here's an interesting opportunity for any other cat lovers among you. The US-based Wildside Press, which also publishes Fantasy Magazine and Weird Tales, is launching a new magazine called Cat Tales. They are seeking fantasy and suspense stories of 500 to 5,000 words involving cats.

In their guidelines they say: "Cats must be portrayed in a positive light. No talking cats -- yes, this is a firm rule. Payment is 3 cents/word for First North American Serial Rights. Submissions go to: Wildside Press, Attn: Cat Tales editor, 9710 Traville Gateway Dr. #234, Rockville MD 20850, USA."

I can't see anything on the website regarding whether they accept electronic submissions, but if you wish you could always try sending them a query via their Contact Us page.

Good luck if you decide to submit a story to this market. Incidentally, the picture above shows my cat Ronnie.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Strange Choice of Prize Winner...

I don't often venture into literary criticism on this blog. However, the recent choice of The Island by Victoria Hislop (see below) as Waterstone's Newcomer of the Year in the Galaxy British Book Awards left me both surprised and depressed.



I took this book on holiday to Greece with me last year with high expectations. The book is set in Crete and tells the story of the tiny island of Spinalonga, a now-deserted former leper colony. It sounded an intriguing tale, and as a lover of Greece and its islands myself, the setting was an added bonus for me.

However, I found it one of the worst written books I had read for many a year. Ms Hislop's prose style is flat and dull, and the dialogue is especially leaden. Characters regularly deliver slab-like paragraphs of exposition in the least life-like manner imaginable. And the writing is often lazy. For example, near the start of the book the narrator and her parents go to a Greek restaurant and order the most predictable dishes you could pick: moussaka, stifado, kalamari, needless to say accompanied by a bottle of retsina. There was a golden opportunity here to bring the scene to life by describing some of the many more interesting and unusual Greek specialities, but instead - as throughout the book - the author was content to take the easy option.

What I found hardest to take about The Island, though, was the constant switching of viewpoints from one character to another. This is something every new fiction writer is taught to avoid, and for good reason - it confuses the reader and makes it almost impossible to identify and empathise with any of the characters. Almost every modern novel is written in scenes portrayed through the eyes (and other senses) of a single viewpoint character. If you are going to ignore this convention, as Ms Hislop has, you need to understand clearly what you are doing and why. I am not at all convinced that this was the case with The Island.

I do think that Victoria Hislop, a travel writer by profession, has uncovered a fascinating story here, and as social history it is certainly worth documenting. It is just a shame that she does not have the writing skills to turn it into a decent novel. What depresses me is that The Island was given this plaudit despite being poorly written - presumably because it was an interesting story, and the author and her husband are already well known in the literary world. Meanwhile, other much better written novels by authors with lower public profiles are shamefully ignored.

Anyway, excuse my rant. I have nothing against book awards, but I do think that above all else they should recognise and reward good writing. When a book such as The Island gets feted despite all its shortcomings, it seems to me unfair on the many 'unknown' authors who could have benefited hugely from the publicity generated by this award, not to mention the many readers (myself included) who may buy this book on the back of all the hype and feel short-changed by it.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Dean Koontz Book Trailer Contest

It's a little-known fact that I'm a big Dean Koontz fan. I subscribe to his entertaining email newsletter, which you can do via his website if you like.

That's how I heard about his brand new competition with a $5,000 top prize. To win you have to create a 30-second book trailer based on reading two pre-publication chapters of Dean's forthcoming novel, The Good Guy. As his publishers say on the competition page, the trailer that best brings the book alive for potential readers will win the grand prize.

You can download the first two chapters of The Good Guy from the competition page, along with the "Essentials Packet" that provides everything else you need to enter the contest. All you have to do then is write and shoot your trailer and upload it to the video-sharing site YouTube. The deadline is May 1 2007.

I appreciate that to enter this contest you will need video-making as well as writing skills, but there are still lots of things I like about it. One of them is that everybody who enters wins a prize - a free "I Shot The Good Guy" tee-shirt. Also, as well as the $5,000 grand prize, there are two runner-up prizes of sets of signed, limited edition Dean Koontz novels, with a value of approximately $1,000.

Anyway, I'm not much of a videographer, but this contest has definitely grabbed my interest. Jayne (my partner) is a Dean fan as well, so we're considering entering a video together, and tossing a coin to see who gets the tee-shirt. If you decide to enter too, maybe we'll see you on YouTube?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

One-Minute Plays Wanted!

If play-writing is your thing, here's an interesting opportunity for you. Submissions of one-minute plays are currently being sought for an International Festival titled 'Gone in 60 Secs'. Here's what they say on their website at www.screamingmediaproductions.com.

Now in its third international year, Screaming Media Productions have once again teamed up with Harrogate Theatre, Harrogate College and Brooklyn College New York to present 'GI60', the world's only 'International Interactive Theatre Festival'. In May and June of this year both Harrogate Theatre and Brooklyn College will host an evening of new theatre. Each venue will premiere fifty new plays, each lasting no more than sixty seconds in length. Actors at Brooklyn College and Harrogate Theatre will perform the plays, which will be recorded and then made available for viewing or download via the screaming media website for a period of up to one year. 'GI60' celebrates new writing by providing a creative platform to a diverse range of people of all ages from around the world. If you have an idea, why not write a play? It's open to anybody and it couldn't be easier...
Full details can be viewed on the Screaming Media site, but briefly the main rules are (1) plays must last no longer than 60 seconds, (2) all plays must be totally original and the author's own work, and (3) the cast size may not exceed 12 actors. All entries must be submitted by email, and the deadline is Saturday 14 April.

The downside is that there are no prizes on offer apart from having your work performed, but then again these are only one-minute plays we're talking about. It's an interesting challenge and a chance to get a bit of free publicity if you're a winner, not to mention an eye-catching addition to your writing CV/resume. So if you agree with the Bard that "the play's the thing", why not give it a try?!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Have You Seen Smart Writers Newsletter?

Did you know that my publishers, WCCL, publish their own weekly email newsletter for writers? It's called Smart Writers, and recently it's been given a bit of a facelift.

Every issue now includes a Welcome message from WCCL's Trent Steele, and Morning Inspiration, a set of quotes about writing to inspire and motivate you. That's followed by Recommendations, a round-up of the latest writing books, courses, e-books and other products (not only WCCL publications).

Following that - a neat new feature! - you get an extract from my latest blog post, whatever it might be. Naturally, a link is provided to take you to my blog if you want to read the whole article.

And finally, every issue includes an article about some aspect of writing by a guest author. In the latest I received, this was "Untold Secrets of Writing Best-Selling Children's Books" by Caterina Christakos, who has a website at www.howtowriteachildrensbook.com. This was a short but interesting article about the importance of characters and conflict in children's fiction.

Smart Writers is attractively formatted and a quick, enjoyable read. Not only is it free to subscribe, WCCL are also giving away a selection of e-books, audio interviews and so on as an extra incentive to sign up. They put a value of almost $4,000 on the freebies, which you might want to take with a pinch of salt (even if they do include several items from me!). It's all good stuff, though, and free, so there's no real cause for complaint.

You can subscribe to Smart Writers via any of the links in this post. And don't worry, you can unsubscribe at any time if you find it's not for you. WCCL is a reputable company and it has no interest in spamming anyone. They also sponsor my forum, as well as the world's first free Internet radio station for writers, WritersFM.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Postcards From Hell

Postcards From Hell is a new, paying market for short horror stories (around 500 words). Information about it was originally posted on my forum by Country4Gal, otherwise known as Alice.

Payment for accepted stories is a flat rate of $50 US per story. They are asking for both print and electronic publication rights for one year from the date of publication, but after that all rights revert to you. Here's what they say about the sort of stories they are looking for:
These are Postcards from Hell, so make your story hellish. No, we're not just interested in stories about demons and devils, or zombies or werewolves or vampires, although all these things are nice. Hell has many layers, each one unique, and several are often mistaken for real life. So hell might be a child's closet or the trunk of a car or the muddy bank of a river in India. But keep in mind that we have a sense of humor around here. The most interesting person in Paradise Lost was The Boss. If we couldn't laugh, this really would be hell. We're not especially looking for funny stories, but if your story makes us chuckle, we won't immediately toss it in the Lake of Fire.

I highly recommend reading the whole of the Postcards From Hell website, not only because it will give you a better idea of what they are looking for, but also it is quite an amusing read (check out the photo of the three-headed golden retriever who guards their electronic domain!).

Finally, do visit as well this topic on my forum, where this opportunity is currently being discussed.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Opportunities for Short Story Writers

A few interesting-looking opportunities for short story writers have been posted on the Writers Wanted board of my forum recently, so in case you've missed them I thought I'd draw them to your attention today.

First up, Gyppo (also known as John) was kind enough to post some info about a competition for a seriously short story being held by BBC Radio Four to celebrate World Book Day.

Your story must comprise exactly 100 words, no more, no less, and incorporate the following six words: bodies, experiments, bacon, organic, fire, paper (apparently the contest theme was suggested by a recent interview with surrealist film-maker David Lynch).

You can enter free via the website - just click here to go straight to the relevant page. Fifty UK pounds in book tokens is the first and only prize, and the top three entries will be read out on air. The closing date is Midnight GMT on March 12 2007.

By the way, this competition has been the subject of some discussion on my forum, and you can go directly to the relevant topic here.

Secondly, WritersWeekly.com is holding a 24-Hour Short Story Contest. Basically, you pay a $5 entry fee to register now, then on the start date (April 21 2007) you are emailed the topic of the contest. You then have 24 hours to write and submit your story by email.

It's a nice little challenge, and limited to 500 entrants. There are also over 85 prizes on offer, so if you can turn out a half-way decent story you have a pretty good chance of winning something. You can read full details of the contest here.

Finally, the quarterly US magazine Glimmer Train says it is looking for 'emotonally affecting, literary short fiction.' Stories may be up to 12,000 words in length, and writers can submit up to three in any one reading month (the next reading month is April). There are no reading fees for standard submissions.

Glimmer Train pays a standard fee of $700 for first publication rights. In addition, they run regular contests for new writers, very short stories, and so on. Entry fees are payable for these contests, but the prizes on offer to the winners are higher than the (still substantial) $700 fee paid for standard submissions.

Full guidelines can be found at www.glimmertrain.com/writguid1.html. If you're serious about your short story writing, this looks like a market you should definitely check out.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Plot Devices in Agatha Christie's Novels

I am grateful to my colleague (and devoted Agatha Christie fan) Karl Moore for drawing my attention to the excellent Wikipedia article by the above title.

I should perhaps warn you, though, that the article (and this post) describes plot devices and twist endings used in many of Ms Christie's novels, so if you are planning to read a Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot story shortly, you might want to look away now!

Here is an example plot device from the article:

The murder proves to be an opportunistic crime complicating a complex one

In Murder on the Links most of the confusing elements of the crime are discovered to have been part of an elaborate plan by the victim to stage his own death and disappear. It is when he is happened upon by the real murderer that the final elements are added to the puzzle.

Similarly, in 'The Mystery of the Spanish Chest' the victim himself plans to hide in the chest and catch his wife with the man that he suspects of being her lover. The murderer kills him while he is in the chest, resulting in a more complex situation to be solved than might otherwise have arisen.
As the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article says, Agatha Christie's reputation as 'The Queen of Crime' was built by the large number of classic plot devices that she introduced, or for which she provided the most famous example. In my view, any would-be crime writer could not fail to be inspired by reading this article.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rolling Stories

I recently received an email from Bob Whittington, a UK-based buyer of my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days.

Bob said in his email, "I am spreading your gospel on a new website I have launched today to encourage creative writing - particularly among schools - www.rollingstories.co.uk - I would value your comments."

I took a look at the site and was duly impressed. Rolling Stories is designed to promote and encourage fiction writing. It's free to join, attractively designed, and members (schools and individual writers) can get involved in various ways. One of my favourites is the "Rolling Stories" concept of the title. In this section the opening paragraphs of a story are provided, and members are invited to log in and continue the narrative with their own 250-word contribution.

Also on the site you'll find a five-minute writing challenge, for which Bob kindly gives me credit.

Rolling Stories has only just been launched, so some parts of the site look a little empty at the moment. However, as the word spreads, I'm sure it will get busier. If your interests include fiction writing, you should definitely check Rolling Stories out. In addition, if you're a teacher, you might like to consider applying on behalf of your school.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Resources for Romance Writers

Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you got at least one card!

In view of the occasion I thought I'd share some of my top resources for romance writers. I don't put myself in that category personally, though I've had my moments. For example, my first published book was How to Find Your Ideal Partner, and my first published short story was a teenage romance. I also co-wrote the scripts for the Cyberbabe and Cyberboyfriend entertainment CD-ROMs published by Lagoon (these were both quite sweet and innocent, I must emphasise!).

There's no doubt that there is a huge appetite for romantic fiction, and with electronic publishing now starting to take off in this field as well, the prospects for romance authors have seldom looked brighter.

First up then is Charlotte Dillon's Resources for Romance Writers. I realise I'm cheating a bit by including a site that lists resources, but Charlotte's site is beautifully written and designed, and it also includes lots of useful, practical advice for budding romance authors. Highly recommended.

My next site is eHarlequin. This is the website of Harlequin, Silhouette, Spice and various other romantic fiction imprints operated by the oldest romance publishing company of them all, Mills & Boon. I'd particularly direct you to their Learn to Write page. This includes writing guidelines and submission samples for many of their imprints, as well as writing articles, updated monthly, from editors and authors. Check out too the current romance writing challenge - deadline 21 February.

Finally, if you are interested in writing the more explicit type of romance, you should visit the Erotica Readers and Writers Association website. This does include some "adult" material, so please read the warning before you click through to the main part of the site. Inside, you'll find all manner of information and resources for writers of this type of fiction, along with pages of calls for submissions from publishers.

Good luck, and good romance writing!

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ficblogs

Have you heard of ficblogs? I must admit I hadn't, till I read an article about them by Addy Farmer in the UK magazine Writers News.

It transpires that a ficblog is a fiction blog, or fiction presented in blog form. Addy's own ficblog is called Wilf's World and describes the thoughts and adventures of a nine-year-old boy (Addy is a children's writer and teacher). It uses the popular Blogger platform, and is illustrated with many colourful photos.

One obvious drawback of using a blog to publish your fiction is that the most recent post always appears at the top. Addy's ficblog gets round this by using a diary format. You can go back to read earlier instalments by clicking on the navigational links in the right-hand column, but in general you can read the chapters in any order.

There are some advantages to the blog format too. If you enable it, your readers can leave comments and suggestions on any of your posts. And, of course, a blog is a quick and easy site to set up and run. Setting up a Blogger blog, for example, takes literally five minutes, and no technical skills are required.

And finally, publishers are increasingly turning to blogs as a source of new books and writers (see, for example, this post I made last year). Obviously there is no guarantee that you will be "discovered" this way, but if nothing else writing a ficblog could be a great way of practising your fiction-writing skills and getting feedback from readers across the world.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

New Collaborative Writing Project at Mywriterscircle.com

Thought you might be interested to hear about an exciting new writing project at my forum. It was proposed by 'jeanette', a relatively new member of the forum. Here's the start of her post:
Recently while shooting the breeze with some other members, I came up with an idea which won't leave me alone. My working title is "the Station".

Every writer has stories that they've started but not finished, for whatever reason: lack of time, lost interest, or maybe they simply got stuck with how to move the plot forward. The stories languish at the bottom of drawers or in forgotten Word files, their characters caught in a timeless limbo.

Now imagine all those characters, all in one place, a giant Grand Central Station, stuck there unable to move on until their writers pick up their pens once more. And the place will be HUGE. (imagine the millions of abandoned stories!)

They will come from all genres: there will be starship captains and spies, romantic heroines and pimply teenagers. Some of them will be sitting in the pub complaining about their lazy writers, some might be in the newsagent, thumbing enviously through bestsellers. Others will be sitting quietly on the platform, waiting for a train that never comes.

I think this idea has masses of potential, and here's the challenge: write a story based round The Station. Let your imagination run wild! I've seen lots of talent on this site, and know there are some wonderful stories out there, just waiting to be written.

Jeanette's idea has captured members' imagination, and already there is talk of an anthology of the best contributions. If you'd like to find out more, the original post can be viewed here. There is also a new topic where further stories for the project can be posted called Station Shorts.

Of course, you'll need to be a member of Mywriterscircle.com before you can join in, but if you aren't already a member, it's quick and easy (and free) to join. If you need a helping hand, however, please visit http://www.nickdaws.co.uk/ew027.htm and read the article 'My Blog and Forum'. See you there!

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Short Story Writing Course in Ireland

If you're an aspiring short story writer, you may be interested in this. Brian Richmond, a long-time subscriber to my newsletter and blog, has asked me to pass on some information about a short story writing weekend he is running from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 March 2007 in beautiful County Donegal in the north-west of Ireland. Brian says:
It will be held in the Malin Hotel, situated in a pretty village on the way to Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland. The scenery around here is beautiful. We have long, deserted beaches; hills that are perfect for walking; standing stones; ruined castles and, of course, friendly pubs.
It's easily accessible by air; if you fly to City of Derry airport you can be in Malin in less than an hour.

The course will cost EUR 260.00. That includes 2 nights B&B, supper on Friday night; lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday Lunch on the last day. Further info and bookings are at www.malinhotel.ie

Brian also sent me the following Course Information Sheet:
After years of saying he'd be a writer someday, Brian Richmond wrote and submitted his first short story to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 2004. It sold. So did his next one. Since that time, his short fiction has appeared in everything from 'Bullet, the magazine of rock'n'roll noir,' to 'My Weekly.' Next year, he has 2 stories appearing in the anthologies 'Next Stop Hollywood: 15 stories that ought to be movies' in the US and in 'Read by Dawn' in the UK.

The course: Writing Stories That Sell.

This residential course is aimed at the aspiring professional, the person who wants to place their work in paying markets. Using 3 of Brian's stories in different genres that have sold to different publications, it will help give writers practical advice on preparing their work for print. It will comprise 4 sessions:
Friday evening: informal get together; course outline.
Saturday morning: 'The Good Kid.' Anatomy of a sale; choosing markets; what editors want; extending the life of a story.
Saturday afternoon: 'Like Snow.' Placing more experimental fiction; matching the material to the market; one voice or many?
Sunday morning: 'Worried about Marge.' Writing to order; what do women want?; literary ventriloquism versus the individual voice.

Additionally, the course will allow time to meet your fellow writers, compare experiences and make contacts, all in the relaxing surroundings of scenic and inspirational County Donegal.

If you can find the time (and the money), it sounds like an idyllic opportunity to immerse yourself in short-story writing, and make some new friends (and useful contacts) as well. If you have any further queries, you can email Brian at brian-richmond-at-utvinternet.com (change the -at- for the usual @ symbol).

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