Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Encouraging Other Writers

Last week, I was having one of my regular chats with my "contact" in the children's book department at my local branch of Waterstones. I was really pleased when he told me that he had started writing again and had just entered a short story competition. I was even more pleased when he said it was partly due to my encouragement.

I have always tried to encourage people to write if they show even the slightest desire to do so, although I usually qualify it now by saying "Don't give up the day job"! I have also been extremely grateful to the many writers who have encouraged me and there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have achieved as much as I have without their support and advice.

One of the first writers who really encouraged me was the novelist Jean Chapman. She was my first writing tutor at the Leicester Adult Education College when I started taking classes in creative writing. (I've always said it could just as easily have been classes in bee-keeping or ballroom dancing but that's another story.) It was great to meet Jean again recently at a writing event and to tell her in person just how much her encouragement meant to me when I was first starting out.

Only last week, I received a very helpful email from the poet Kate Williams ( after I had written to her asking for some advice about various writing-related matters. Her reply was very encouraging and gave me a great boost at the time, as well as making me determined to keep going with my children's poetry, however hard it sometimes seems to get anywhere with it.

I'm also very grateful to Rosalie Warren ( , a young adult fiction author, whose latest book "Coping With Chloe" is out now (quick plug for you there, Rosalie!) and with whom I was put in contact after my novel "Cracking Up" was shortlisted in the Earlyworks Press teenage fiction competition. Rosalie's encouragement, not to mention extremely constructive criticism, after reading "Cracking Up" and my current novel "Dear Egg", really made me feel that I could write for young people and was all I needed to get me back to my desk again.

Of course, there are times when it is hard to encourage yourself to keep writing, let alone anyone else. It is also "The Law" of writing that you will only hear about other writers' successes when you have just had your tenth rejection of the week. Guarding against "writers' envy" can use up almost as much energy as guarding against "writers' block" and is certainly something I've had problems with in the past. Now I try to be more positive and take encouragement from the fact that if they can do it, then so can I. Also, I like to think of writing as a huge cairn and each writer adds a stone to the cairn every time they get something accepted or published. In fact I'm just off now to start polishing another stone to see if I can add it to the pile!            

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Legend In My Own Lunchtime

I was really pleased to get a phone call from Take A Break magazine last Friday saying that they want to use a piece I sent in on their letters page in the next couple of weeks. The item was originally intended for their "Magic Moments" slot but that has apparently been discontinued. (A shame as it paid £150 for about 250 words which even with my lack of mathematical prowess seems like a good deal.)

Anyway, the piece was about a rock and roll concert that myself and some other teachers put on to entertain our pupils during the lunch hour when I was teaching back in the late 1980s. It involved, in my case, dressing up like Suzi Quatro in black leather and playing the bass guitar. (If you want to see what I looked like, you'll have to buy the magazine!)

I've always felt it was a good "story" as the whole event was a bit like Beatlemania, with forged tickets, one pupil falling through a skylight and breaking his ankle and staff and students alike, dancing in the aisles, then having to go back to classes in the afternoon.

I called the piece "A Legend In My Own Lunchtime" and I sold a different version of it to the (now defunct) Annabel magazine many years ago. It just goes to show that you should never give up on a strong idea, however long you've had it, as you may be able to "re-cycle" it for another market. In fact I'm just off to see if I can get a short story for Woman's Weekly out of it now!  



Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Sebastian Faulks

I was listening to the Test Match last Saturday when I should have been writing (see previous post!) and the guest on "View from the Boundary" was the bestselling novelist Sebastian Faulks ( I must confess to never having read any of his novels although I did once own a copy of "Birdsong". I always enjoy listening to successful writers talking about writing though, so I tuned in.

I was surprised to hear that Sebastian made up his mind he wanted to be a writer when he was only 14. At that age, I'm pretty sure I didn't have any concept of there being such a job as a "writer" even though I was a prolific reader.

Sebastian also had some useful advice for aspiring authors. His tips were:
1. Write about what you don't know rather than what you do as it will stretch you more.
2. Write about what you're interested in and passionate about. (Good advice, especially for novelists, as it's a long haul if you've chosen a subject that doesn't really grab you.)
3. Keep plugging away.

My own advice, for what it's worth (as someone who is considerably less successful so far than Sebastian Faulks has been) is:
1. Don't quit the day job unless you are comfortable earning considerably less in one month than your paper boy/girl probably earns in one day.
2. If no one is giving you deadlines, give yourself some.
3. Never, ever give up.

If anyone has any other helpful tips for would-be writers, I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Writing Distractions

The other week it was the snooker, now it's the cricket and the French Open tennis. I'm talking about the things that distract me from getting down to writing.

Although I love "having written", it is the actual writing bit that can be a problem. I often wonder if this is exclusive to writers (or other "creatives" as I have exactly the same problem with my craftwork) or do plumbers, electricians, nurses and shopkeepers find it difficult to get down to work? Once I've actually started, it's usually fine and the problem then is not wanting to stop.

Here are my top five tips for not getting distracted from starting to write. Let me know if you have any favourite ones that work for you.

1. Aim to start work within 90 minutes of getting out of bed.
2. Avoid working anywhere near a room that has a television and a comfy chair.
3. Don't check emails until you have done at least an hour's writing.
4. Keep the phone out of the work area unless you have to use it to make a call.
5. Remember that looking at other writers' websites and blogs doesn't count as writing!

Good luck with keeping your writing distractions at bay. I'm off now to stick a large note on the kitchen door that says "Procrastination is the thief of words". I'll let you know if it works.