How to get a Publishing Deal #1

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by The Lone Ranger

"Just what you ordered sir?"

Mike hasn't given me anything to do until next year when he's sending me off to Covent Garden to give away some books. So I thought leading up to Christmas I'd have some fun.

So each week I'm going to give you a top tip to getting a publisher to give you that publishing deal you've been trying for since you first discovered you could knock a sentence together.

This week's tip:

Get a job serving in your publisher's favourite restaurant.

You should find this a picnic compared with navigating the slush pile on your chosen publisher's desk. Once employed get some money in tips from your publisher first - money always flows to the writer right? Then when you feel the time is right serve your manuscript with a side salad or fries and place in front of the publisher with a smile and a "Just what you ordered sir?"

A passing thought: Is a writer's carbon footprint larger than average? And is this due to all the books or all the submissions?

Photo Credit: Independentman

No Metaphors in Sight

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by Stella

I’ve mentioned before that somewhere along the way I decided to focus on screenwriting and give up struggling over regular prose, particularly the kind that comes in novel form. Since you’re not supposed to bother with fancy descriptions in a screenplay – the faster something is described, the better – my approach to description has become so functional that my ability to coin a decent simile or metaphor (never anything to boast of in the first place), creaks like the rusty hinges of an iron gate. And I think that just proved my point. But let us proceed nonetheless.

Anyway, since that day of revelation, I’ve (ohgodhelpme) rediscovered the desire to write regular prose, particularly the kind that comes in novel form. But, hello? Creak creak. Rusty over here. I won’t even go in to how much I’ve neglected three of the five senses over the years. When all you need is sight and sound, smell, taste, and touch recede so far into the back of your mind that you forget to even think of them. My characters haven’t smelled, tasted, or touched anything for years. They’re starving for sensation and I’m trying to pick up the slack.

In the mean time, I’ve also forgotten that one of the most annoying parts of writing descriptions is trying to make them not only interesting to read and relevant to the object/subject, but original as well. Meaning, you don’t want rosy lips and starry eyes all over the place because that’s too easy. (If you’re me, you also want descriptions to be as short as possible but that’s a whole other writing complex.) Example: Her voice was a beam of sunlight darting through a glass vessel.

Good for me. That only took me a minute and a half to think of. Granted, it’s not about any specific character – I just composed it at random, which is probably why it was so easy to come up with. But anyway, what the hell am I talking about when I describe her voice as a beam of sunlight darting through a glass vessel? Sunlight implies brightness and airiness; darting implies speed. Now what’s the deal with the glass vessel? The sunlight goes through the glass without hurting it, so it implies that the voice likened to sunlight – which can also be harsh and blinding – is gentle. So I’ve composed a nice little metaphor: interesting (hopefully), relevant (potentially), and original (as far as I know).

Now let’s do some tweaking: Her voice was a beam of sunlight peaking through the shutters. I think the more positive qualities of sunlight previously mentioned are preserved in this new version, but now the metaphor also reveals more about the state of mind of the character describing her. Sunlight peaking through shutters might be interpreted as a welcome intrusion on a person’s gloomy mood. Or, if we replace the word “peaking” which implies a kind of unobtrusive observation, with the word “poking” which is more forceful, we might get the idea that the person, though they may be in a gloomy mood, is not entirely happy about Miss Sunshine’s presence.

With a little tweaking you can get a world of difference between descriptions, and I’ve promised myself to try to remember that as I grind my teeth over various adjectives and figurative phrases. I may never finish that novel, but it can’t hurt to force myself to write descriptions that aren’t purely literal. After all the teeth grinding is only metaphorical.

Who Are You, Really?

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by Kathleen

Violet looked like a fairytale princess, waiting outside her daughter’s nursery school. The other mothers were older and dowdy, the nannies frazzled. But Violet possessed primacy as a young mother.

Leigh arrived late, still unfamiliar with the roads. Violet glanced up and smiled. “Finally.” She extended her hand.

Leigh and Violet both lived in cramped apartments, both put their children first, and were both twenty-three. “Stick with me,” Violet said. “We’ll have fun.”

She phoned her mother-in-law and asked her to watch Gretchen and Jonathan. “Two hours, Mama. We’re hitting Nordstrom’s.”

Violet headed straight for Chanel cosmetics, ready for her make-over. Leigh refused, hands over her face in embarrassment.

“Why are you being like this? A little eye-shadow won’t kill you.”

Violet bought a pink tulle skirt. “Leigh, try this.” So Leigh bought a blue dress, agreeing that she could wear it anywhere, for anything.

Violet arranged a picnic for the families that weekend. At a riverside park, she introduced her husband, Doug, who sold pharmaceuticals. And Leigh introduced her husband, Garett, who produced infomercials.

During October, the families visited the zoo, the nature preserve, and many playgrounds. “Gretchen and Jonathan behave better together than apart,” Leigh said. “The boy-girl combination works at this age.”

“No sex battles at three.” Violet sighed. “When do they start?”

“In your case,” Doug teased her, “three and three days.”

“No, I think they started when I met you.”

Doug lifted Violet, hugging her. “Touché.”

On Halloween they finished in Leigh and Garett’s neighborhood. “See if you can get a babysitter,” Leigh said, “and come back for drinks after the kids are asleep.”

Soon Garett was serving his special Margaritas.

“They’re too strong.” Leigh added water to hers.

“Margarita and I are in love,” Violet said, after a long sip. “Famously.”

Doug shook his head. “Do you even know what’s in a Margarita?”

“Tequila. That’s what matters.”

Leigh leaned forward. “Alone at last. So tell us—who are you, really?”

Garett said, “Leigh, Don’t scare our guests.”

Violet emptied her drink and turned, relevé, arms reaching up. “I am: Actress and dancer. Tisch School.”

“Do you audition for parts?” Garett refilled Violet’s glass.

Doug spoke against the side of his hand. “Yes, sir. An ex-teacher comes to town and she sleeps with him.”

“Shut up.” Violet pushed him, in fun.

They drank for hours like that. Afterwards, Leigh and Garett agreed—success!

Monday morning, Violet phoned, saying thanks for the splendid time. She and Gretchen were leaving Doug. Flying to her parents’ in Michigan.

“How awful. Why?”

“Why do you think, Leigh?”

“Violet, come on.”

“You asked the question, Leigh. ‘Who are you, really?’ Well, I’m not just some housewife. Bored by my plain vanilla husband. So what if I don’t know who I am? I’m definitely not that.”

44 Words

by Guest Writer:
Todd Glasscock

I once read that Stephen King — or some other best seller — said he saved every rejection letter, a token of his persistence, some weird reverse psychology inlaid with the faith of “one day.” It seems, though, like an act of self-flagellation, a way to heap abuse upon oneself for writerly sins, a punishment for even writing at all.

Last year, I received a forty-four word e-mail rejecting a short story, a favorite story of mine, one I had worked and reworked many times for about four years. Revised until sick of it. I had to send it out. The rejection prickled me more than most; it pinched a part of my psyche, twisting it like a comma.

No matter how hard you try to prepare for the crackling lash, rejection can welt the thickest of skins. Rejection makes forty-four benign words malignant. Instead of saying, in part, as it does, “Although we have not selected your work for publication, we do wish you the best of luck with it elsewhere” it expands, it spreads, it becomes “We receive enough of this drivel every day. Shut off your word processor you worthless hack and never write again.”

They pierced me, those forty-four words. I read the magazine, an online journal. I thought I carefully studied the stories, thought my story was just as quirky as the ones I read.

My first thought: the MFA conspiracy, an idea I had concocted once after asking agent Henry Dunow whether a submission gets taken more seriously when it’s from an MFA. It helps, he said. The degree suggests the writer is someone who takes writing seriously. To the editors of this journal, then, I really was a hack, lacking three letters behind my name, submitting stories a first semester MFA student would have been embarrassed to have submitted in workshop.

But what if those three letters didn’t matter? What if I really was a hack, only good enough at one time to write lifestyles stories for a small daily newspaper? Only good enough to freelance for small, local magazines.

Then I remembered a passage from John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist : “Nearly every beginning writer sooner or later asks . . . his creative writing teacher, or someone else he thinks might know, whether or not he really has what it takes to be a writer.”

Those forty-four words said, “You don’t have what it takes, man. Give up.” All I ever wanted to hear. Except not from this source.

The best answer to the question of whether a beginner has what it takes Gardner says is: “God only knows.” Agnostic that I am, those forty-four words made me crave a higher authority. Someone who might know, who might say “Give it up, you hack.”

At the same time, I wanted to clamp my ears, run around screaming nyah! nyah! nyah! until the voice fled, to persist, until my pile of rejection slips ran over, and accept my stripes until “one day.”

When asked in an interview if he had any advice for budding writers, Chuck Palahnuik said, “Persevere. . . .The biggest talent you can have is determination. Do you use the writing process as your ongoing excuse to keep exploring the world, meeting people and learning things? If you can do that, then the writing itself will be its own payoff and reward.”

This summer I received three rejections. A few more stripes. Still, I return to the process. Word to sentence. Sentence to paragraph. I crawl forward like an infant, the world and understanding ahead.

Todd Glasscock is a short story writer, journalist, editor and aspiring novelist. He has published several pieces as a freelance writer in a variety of magazines and newspapers and short fiction at He was also the Lifestyles and Religion editor for the Temple Daily Telegram, Temple, Texas.

Explore Todd's website here.

Picture: No Entry by Otaillon

The View From Here at the Frankfurt Fair

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by Mike

Jen's back from The Frankfurt Fair the largest of its kind in the publishing industry.

The Turkey exhibition / forum centre was a fascinating mix of media, content and a pleasure to view, full of large scale author images, coloured backdrops and simple photographs. It made you feel as if great authors were looking over your shoulder at the forum and panel discussions in host language, Turkish. Jen
For her full report, All The Fun of the Fair and her insiders look, go to the news page here.

Emotional Gravity Wells

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by Mike

In the Batman film, The Dark Knight, The Joker played by Heath Ledger tells Batman:

"Y'see, Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little ... push."

Which set me thinking (after the film had finished!) about how when I'm writing I like to think up stories where I can show a character's inner emotions. What's ticking inside that needs a push to be revealed?

I like to think of scenes that are Emotional Gravity Wells. All I need is to direct my character towards them like little quicksand pools in a jungle waiting for the tread of feet and then down they go to reveal madness, fear, lust: whatever is beneath those traits that they teach you to do on writing courses. Well he likes cheese on toast, has blue eyes, watches EastEnders blah,blah,blah ... nudge them out of the workshop, pull all hope from them and see what lurks beneath. A wonderland of chaos that is struggling to form an identity that is a human being: a coherent pattern in a mind that is splintered.

Of course a Gravity Well is in another way of saying a black hole - from which there is no escape. So then I'm left with: Do I let them out or not? A happy or sad ending? Or do I write it so it appears to be a happy ending, but look deeper into the well and all is not what it seems?

So if you're writing, or plotting a story - why not nudge your character along to a Gravity Well and see what happens? You may need to be subtle and cover it with sticks and scrub - your characters may not want to go down if they see it there in the story. You do know your characters take on a life of their own don't you? Or have I fallen into madness?

Give me a hand out somebody.

The right word

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Paul Burman

Can a person jump into the same river twice?

Six years ago, I was asked to teach a basic philosophy course to teenagers. It came as something of a surprise because the only time I'd attempted to study philosophy was twenty-five years previously, as a short unit in an Arts degree, when each tutorial had always left me so confused I invariably walked away with a headache. Not only was this a slight problem, but apparently there was no course outline, and I was expected to work out the whole show as I went along.

It probably isn't difficult to imagine the dread with which I approached those first classes, wondering if I could keep a single step ahead of the students or whether they'd discover what a fraud I was. There were a couple of sleepless nights thrown in for sure, and a new sort of headache.

However, not only did it soon become one of the highlights of my job at that time (because teenagers love talking about the nature of time and dreams and reality and how they know what they know and ethics and how we know that green is green, and there's nothing better than working with that sort of interest and enthusiasm), but I soon learned that it was dramatically changing the way I, as a writer, thought about words and the way I shaped ideas with words. It became a honing stone for making language use more precise and sharpening the logical development of ideas. Philosophy is, in part, about language.

Can a person jump into the same river twice?

Most people would say: Of course. Others, when pressed, might suggest it would be the same river, but the experience would always be different.

Try it on a warm day and then on a cold day. Try jumping in the middle of winter when it's frozen, or after a drought when a snarl of rocks are exposed.

This question inevitably led to another question: Are we the same person at eight months old as we are when we've got eighty years on the clock, or have we become many different people in between? Are our thoughts the same, or our feelings, or our memories, or our physique, or our eyesight?

The doubts arise. The certainties get muddier. For every answer there are two more questions, and the doubt brings its own brand of headache.

Are two plastic chairs, cast from the same mould, the same chair or different?

If the qualities of two chairs are the same, but the chairs are actually different chairs, then how can a river, which will acquire very different qualities from one moment to the next (to say nothing of one season to the next) be the same river?

Can a person really jump into the same river twice?

Such doubts, I learned (two small steps or one quick jump ahead of my students), can only be solved if we measure our words and our meaning more carefully and -- in this case -- define and distinguish the nature of Sameness.

To wit: numerical and qualitative sameness. I'd never heard of these distinctions before.

The river is numerically the same river, but qualitatively different.

The chairs are qualitatively the same, but numerically different.

One of the chairs is qualitatively and numerically the same today as it was last week, unless someone bends a leg or scribbles graffiti on it in the interim, in which case it becomes like the river...

Call me a freak, but I delight in this stuff. It might take me even longer to write a sentence these days (and there are many days when I can have fewer words on a page at the end of the day than I did at the beginning), and I might spend too long gazing out the window at the grass and wondering what form of greenness other people might see, or whether it's the same grass I gazed at yesterday, but my brief flirtation with philosophy has made me think about the significance of each word more than I ever did before.

P.S. It is an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth.

Erie Street

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by Kathleen

Killing time, Eric skimmed the list of U.S. military contractors declared dead in Afghanistan, stopping at Chauncey Castlegarten IV. No further information.

The summer after high school, Eric had lived in a dilapidated row house on Erie Street with Chauncey Castlegarten IV, called Chip.

Eric, now a corporate lawyer, gripped the back of his neck.

Back then, time moved differently. Eric and Chip idled about, reckless and extravagant. They watched increments float by and waved sayonara. Unconcerned, almost unconvinced of the future.

Their apartment’s managers lived in the basement: the wife couldn’t walk because of her heart; the man was practically deaf. Eric bought sinsemilla. He and Chip sold some but smoked more on the steps, imitating Mrs. Dempsey bellowing from the basement, “MISTER DEMPSEY!” They pitched their voices like pennies, trying to match her.

They worked at a pizza place, smoked pot, and yelled “MISTER DEMPSEY!” whenever Mrs. Dempsey did. Soon, a notice for RENT DUE appeared on their door every Friday.

The Chicago Cubs were winning that summer. Eric and Chip sat in the bleachers: Ciao pizza place.

Eric didn’t remember doing laundry. They got Cubs T-shirts or caps or athletic socks free at the ballgames. Long white socks that looked really goofy with their cut-off jeans. They pointed at each other and fell down laughing, they looked so stupid. Then they sat on the stoop yelling, “MISTER DEMPSEY!”

They wandered around Rush Street’s nightlife scene. Glittery people snickered, “Dumb and Dumber,” before Eric and Chip realized their get-ups were identical. Down to their blown-out basketball shoes. So freaking hilarious.

Before long, RENT DUE notices appeared every day. They sold pot for cash as necessary and smoked the rest. Eric suggested they apply for jobs at Walgreen’s. Stock-boys for two weeks. They combined paychecks and bought more sensie. Sold some, smoked some, and after work, imitated Mrs. Dempsey.

Then the Cubs played the Mets for four straight days. Adiós Walgreen’s. Saturday morning, they were sitting on the steps yelling, “MISTER DEMPSEY!” when he suddenly yanked their arms. Evicted.

“For three months late? You’re kidding.”

Mr. Dempsey shoved them. “Get packing!” They laughed until the police arrived. Then they handed over their keys and carried their stuff onto the sidewalk.

That afternoon they lounged outdoors on the couch. When dusk settled, some winos sat in the chairs. Eric got the TV tapped into a streetlight. Someone brought a bottle. When the night grew chilly, Chip stood up and stretched. “The weather’s better in California. Care to join me, Mr. Dempsey?” Wasted, Eric laughed him off.

Now he stood up, confused, until he realized that the cold clamp at the back of his neck was his own hand.

Sometimes it's okay to tell.

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by Stella

The most common piece of writing advice in circulation is “Write what you know.” Coming in at a very close second is “Show, don’t tell.” These are two excellent maxims to keep floating around in your head when you write. The former reminds you to do your homework and the latter reminds you not to blather on endlessly. The problem is that, as true and sensible as they are, these sayings have been repeated so often by so many that they’ve become these creativity-constraining mantras, wherein Write What You Know means “you can only ever write about your own backyard” and Show Don’t Tell means “Anything but action and dialogue is boring and unnecessary.”

Specifically, I’ve been rather irritated of late with Show Don’t Tell. Apparently this means that “telling” a story as opposed to “showing” it is bad writing. For example, telling would be, “John was an angry man, subject to wild mood swings. His notorious rage was a formidable weapon against his enemies.” Whereas showing would be having John display his rage in some scene. The argument is that constructing a scene in which John displays his rage is a more powerful device than just telling the reader about it. Fair enough. Point taken.

But... A narrative isn’t only made up of action and dialogue, it’s also a rendering of the character’s thoughts. Sometimes the whole beauty of the thing is being immersed in the character’s personality as though we were sitting right in his or her (or its) head, seeing the world through his or her (or its) eyes. It’s not just telling the story – it’s telling the story in a specific way. What’s significant isn’t that Charlotte tells the reader that John has a temper – thanks, we’ll probably be seeing that firsthand in a minute anyway – but rather that Charlotte is thinking about it and that it characterizes her personality as well. She sees his rage as a formidable weapon: does this mean she, as opposed to others, is not afraid of John’s temper?

Granted, you can argue that first-person narration can get away with “telling,” because it’s like another person telling you a story. You don’t stop someone in the middle of an anecdote with: “Show me, don’t tell me!” Yet even a third-person narrator, however omniscient or neutral, still functions as a specific filter through which we experience the story. The author has chosen those words for a reason. At least, we hope he or she is using them for a reason. I can’t deny that some literary classics are exhausting in their efforts to discuss and dissect the world at large, bringing the actual narrative to a grinding halt and trying the reader’s patience. From hence the desire to show rather than tell.

As I said at the beginning, that’s great advice when you take it in the right context, but out of context it reduces all written narratives to novelized screenplays. A screenplay, no matter how brilliant or artistic, is a blueprint of the movie to come, not the finished product; movie audiences won’t read it. A novel isn’t a story’s blueprint, it’s the actual story given dimension and detail. We shouldn’t automatically dismiss something as unnecessary or irrelevant just because it doesn’t advance the plot or because we may be able to infer it through dialogue. And this is coming from a person who not only gets itchy every time she has to spend more than three lines describing something, but who actually defines herself as a screenwriter. Lately I’ve been testing my skills with writing a novella, which is why I’ve been repeating the sentence: sometimes it’s okay to tell.

The Second Plane by Martin Amis

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by Mike

The Second Plane
by Martin Amis
Publisher: Jonathan Cape

This is a fascinating collection of Martin Amis' writings and short stories around the events of September 11. He first wrote about it in a piece for the Guardian saying,

"It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty; that was the defining moment."

He goes on to explain that as soon as the second plane appeared it was clear that the first was no accident that the world was about to be flipped around on its axis sending missiles and might spinning from American grief.

We see a vertiginous power rush followed by a vacuum, and then a drift into helplessness and paralysis.

Along the way Martin makes some interesting comments on writing:

Imaginative writing is understood to be slightly mysterious. In fact it is very mysterious. A great deal of the work gets done beneath the threshold of consciousness, and without the intercession of reason.

The effect of terrorism on air travel:

Whatever else terrorism had achieved in the past few decades, it had certainly brought about a net increase in world boredom.

And interesting first hand accounts after shadowing Tony Blair which he reported in June 2007 in the Guardian:

"Do you intend to put it in your piece?"
"Yeah, I thought so."
And I obeyed - although of course I have no compunction about slinging it in here. Bush was saying, of something or other, "I've never seen such bullshit in my life." Then, much more interestingly, he jerked to his feet, yelling at the cameraman, "Give me the tape! Give me the tape!"

One of the things that Martin points out is the power we give the 9/11 tag by not stating the year. We in effect prevent the event from remaining in the past. It becomes timeless, with us now: ever present and dangerous.

September 11 continues, it goes on, with all its mystery, its instability, and its terrible dynamism.

Martin Amis is regarded by many as one of the most influential and innovative voices in contemporary British fiction and is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes.
His awards include the Somerset Maugham Award for best first novel and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, and his work is routinely shortlisted for other awards, most notoriously the Man Booker Prize, which he has yet to win.

Issue 4 of TVFH on Sale Now

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by Mike

Interviews with authors ...

Paul Torday of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Gary Davison
Jon Haylett
School Librarian of the year Nikki Heath

Industry News
Original Fiction

& much more!

ISSN 1758-2903

Click here to see a full preview and to buy.

World’s Sexiest Man 2005

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by Kathleen

The airline allows me to board thirty minutes early. Hardly necessary, but easier than chancing it. Hanging out in public. Where naturally I act natural. Eventually, or sooner, someone notices. (“Isn’t that…you know?”) And I play it sorta approachable. Meaning scared shitless because one unwanted wink makes me a peacock.

I settle into a window seat, pretend to read Wired magazine, and I’m safe. Small chance anybody will call me out here.

The flight attendant serves me lemongrass tea. About a hundred travelers get on. Then there’s this very pretty girl sitting next to me, probably upgraded.

Much maneuvering stowing her stuff, wriggling her jacket off. Fresh faced. Beautiful dark red hair. No color job—none. Not looking at me.

But she’s trembling. Definitely trembling. Plane takes off; pilot comes on. About three hours to Kennedy. She’s still trembling.

“I don’t bite.”

She ignores me.

“I’m Martin Imhoff.”

She still ignores me.

“You know, the show Gangstas. I played Derek. Three years.”

She bites her lip and looks up. Big, wide, round brown eyes. Uh-oh. I’m slipping into gaga-land—staring at her. Embarrassing. Nonchalant pause and so what? I glance again: Long pale neck. Cupid mouth.

“What’s your name?” Causal, an honest how-do-you-do.

“Amber Shoemaker.”

“You look like an Amber.” Whoa, does she blush! “That’s a compliment, Amber.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. You really don’t know Gangstas? It’s still on. Last year my homemade bomb bombed me.”

My attempted wit sounds stupid, but she almost smiles. Almost. “They promoted my death between seasons.”

“I never saw it. No cable.”

“Really.” So is she an actress? Fooling with me? “Amber, what do you do?”

“Museum gift shop.”

“What’s your ambition?”

“Nothing big. Maybe teaching.”

So I go into my thing about how healthy no do-or-die ambition is. Because otherwise you’re constantly, horribly anxious. Am I doing enough? Too much?

I find out she was visiting her sister. Lives with her mother. And isn’t into celebrities.

“I’m not a celebrity anymore.”

“You’ll get another show.”

“You think? Because I’m trying. Kissing up where I can. Searching for the right part. Nonstop what-ifs.”

“It’ll work out.” She’s sincere, so I gotta risk it. Because if she’s not impressed? We might get along with no acting. No acting. Imagine that.

But she won’t go out with me—too embarrassing. Me being a celebrity.

“But I’m not. Anymore. You’ve never heard of me.”

“Yeah, but I work at it.” Sweet grin.

“In Manhattan nobody recognizes me. I haven’t worked in a year, Amber. Come on. Name the restaurant, nightclub, whatever.”

“Latin dancing,” and do I have a pen?

“An iPhone.” I’m ready with it and she grins again.

“Now I remember. You’re the World’s Sexiest Man.”

“2005. Very definitely embarrassing.”

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival - what Difference Does it Make?

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by Jen

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival runs from 10th -
19th October this year, and one local book owner is very much a part of it.

Peter Lyons, set up his bookshop opposite the Town Hall in Cheltenham, England, in 2000, after retiring from his lecturer position at Cheltenham Art School, now Gloucestershire University.

Eight years on he has just renewed his lease, and says, “I love my shop.”

Normally open four days a week, for two weeks of the year Peter Lyons will open from nine in the morning to ten at night, “You have to make the most of the Festival.”

Peter Lyons Books is halfway between an antiquarian and second-hand bookshop, with a smattering of new books. He has a large range of fiction and non-fiction, with a growing collection in art and poetry, his personal favourites, but he specialises in children’s books. His stock includes first editions, signed and rare books. Put simply, all manner of collectables.

The Festival has an enormous impact on his business every year. From trade dealers looking to get books signed, to the public attending popular authors’ at the events, many will visit his shop. “We get a lot of regulars, but all sorts of visitors due to the Festival including celebrities. Last year jazz singer Jamie Cullum came in with Sophie Dahl, and we’ve served Melvin Bragg to Dennis Healey.”

In preparation Peter reviews the catalogue as soon as it is released and buys accordingly, he says “I attempt to get as many of the books of people who are appearing, their earlier work too, and stock my window according to the Festival.”

Dealers are welcomed to use the shop as a bit of a base, sometimes even taking Peter’s own books for signing, while he mans his shop. And whilst much business goes through his till, he says that many books never even touch the shelves, a significant part of business going on behind the scenes.

Catering for a niche market underpins Peter Lyons’s business in today’s challenging market. “There’s still a lot of money out there”, he commented. “The market on the whole is OK. We’re not suffering as much a high street retailer. Sometimes I might be quiet and sell only two books in a day, but they can make up for not selling twenty ordinary books.” A recent customer made an investment as a Christening gift for a baby boy, a first edition copy of ‘Just William’.

One could say that the festival program is moving away from the literary to include a more diverse range of speakers, touched by the fashion for celebrity. But many of its participants manage to combine both for those interested in books and their favourite authors. Jacqueline Wilson will come to Peter Lyons Shop with an excited clamouring of young girls in tow, “like the Pied Piper.”

The literary aspect of the Festival appeals more to the passionate book expert like Peter Lyons, currently growing his specialist poetry section with first editions of works by Ted Hughes, Seamus Heany and Silvia Plath.

But even Mr. Lyons will agree that the celebrity factor attracts people, and people are good for business for both the Festival and businesses like his own. He’s not hesitant to admit, he enjoys seeing some of the stars as much as anyone else. “I’m quite looking forward to seeing Dawn French. I hope she’ll come in, probably not dressed as the Vicar of Dibley, but it would be fun.” Dawn French is promoting her book, ‘Dear Fatty’ which was released on October 2nd. “I’m really looking forward to a successful two weeks. I hope,” he added.

“All my life I was interested in books and was a big collector. My friends said it wouldn’t work because I’d never want to let one go. But in my first week I sold so many, that I really got the bug of selling, I loved it.” His enthusiasm and passion for his job is clear.

“It’s wonderful when you’re working with things you love, and people who love them too.”

Peter Lyons’ love and respect for his stock takes on an almost living quality. “I sometimes make a sale and quietly think, I hope that’s going to a good home. Or if I’ve talked to the customer a little, I’ll be pleased to pass it on to someone who appreciates it. I suppose I should have set up a pet shop”, he jokes.

Good for book lovers that he didn’t.

The Cheltenham Festival is Britain’s oldest literary festival, founded in 1949 by amongst others, John Moore and Alan Hancocks, a local Tewksbury author, who was well connected in the literary world.

Peter Lyons Books
11 Imperial Square


Gloucestershire GL50 1QB


Tel: ++44(0)1242 - 260345

images © Mina Souter

Coming Soon: We Interview Iain Banks

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by Mike

Well I'm half way through The Steep Approach to Garbadale which I'm reading to prepare for my interview with Iain Banks.

Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. He has since gained enormous popular and critical acclaim for both his mainstream and his science fiction novels.

For Iain's web site click here.

Photo Copyright: John Foley /Opale

You're no fun anymore.

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by Stella

Sorry, no, I don’t mean you, of course. That sentence was directed at me – by myself. It’s lately occurred to me that I can be a terrible nitpicker. I can’t call it “attentive to detail” or by some other diplomatic phrasing because it’s gone beyond that point. I suppose it’s a side-effect of writing that I get stuck on certain things and then they bother me. I don’t look for them. They find me. Honestly.

I can’t help that in Pirates of the Caribbean Barbossa never could have mistaken Elizabeth for a maid given her expensive clothing, her elegant vocabulary, and her fine white hands that probably never did a day’s work. You don’t need to tell me that the point is moot. We’re talking ghost pirates and cursed treasure for heaven’s sake – I have a sense of proportion.

And somehow from making casual remarks about The Devil Wears Prada (the movie), I ended up dissecting it into teeny tiny bits while my friend’s eyes gradually widened in astonishment. Finally, she said, “But I thought you said you liked it.” I did, mostly, but... those... thingies! They found me! And then I couldn’t help thinking what I would have done instead. I don’t mean to sound elitist about it. I’m sure anyone with a particular interest in a specific subject can get caught up.

You don’t have to be a dentist to notice people’s teeth or a chef to mentally deconstruct the recipe of whatever food you’re eating. But sometimes I really want to shut my brain off. I want to watch a movie without trying to guess how it’s going to end. I want to read a book without considering whether a different point of view might have been a better way to tell the story.

Afterwards that’s all part of the fun – thinking it over, turning it this way and that – but before I’ve seen/read the whole thing through? Really! I’m like a bad dinner guest. Instead of enjoying the food and the company, I’m gazing suspiciously at a speck on my fork. (In my defense: as an actual dinner guest I wouldn’t dream of gazing suspiciously at my fork or any other implement for fear of insulting my host. I’m only bad on the metaphorical level.)

So I’ve decided to try not to be an over-analytical harpy, at least the first time around. I can’t help being over-analytical afterwards, although I hope I’ll never reach the harpy stage no matter what. I don’t want to be no fun. Ugh, bad grammar. I meant I don’t want to be not fun. Wait a minute… oh never mind!

Jenny Downham - Interview Part 2 of 2

The View From Here Interview:
Jenny Downham

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by Jen

In Part One of the interview we discussed its research, writing and publication. In Part Two, Jenny shares her experience of winning prizes, an inspiring method of overcoming writer’s block, her recommended reading for young adults/ authors and her ten top tips which writers of all genres can use.

Do you write full time?

I write every weekday when my two sons are at school, and again once they’re in bed and I sometimes manage to snatch a few hours over the weekend. I do consider myself full-time. But then I also consider myself a full-time parent, so I’m not quite sure how that tallies…

In 2003 you entered and won the London Writer’s Competition- what was your entry, and how did winning change your writing or your approach to writing?

My entry was a short story called ‘You Never Know.’ It was based on two characters from my first novel (unpublished). Winning changed everything. It gave me a huge amount of confidence, which meant I dared to join a writer’s group. This provided me with a place for on-going critical feedback and support. I began to consider myself as a writer, rather than someone who did it as a hobby.

You were among four shortlisted writers for the Guardian children's fiction prize. Was winning a major literary prize "on your list" as a writer, or with this book?

As an unpublished novelist my greatest hope for the book was that it might be sold and therefore that my story would be heard. I had no hopes beyond this. I’m completely bowled over by how well the book has been received. I recently won the Brandford Boase Award (for best debut for children in 2008). The prize was a beautiful wooden box and I thought ‘literary life’ didn’t get much better than that. To be on the Guardian shortlist as well has totally stunned me.

Have you experienced an ‘aha’ moment in your writing career?

Before I Die isn’t my first novel. My first novel is in a drawer in my bedroom and took three and a half years to write.
I was at my desk feeling absolutely stuck. No-one wanted my first book and here I was attempting to write a second. I sat there for many days staring at a blank computer screen. I watched myself go through all the clichéd avoidance tactics. So I would start a day thinking, Oh, I really need a coffee before I begin, then I might see that the kitchen window was dirty and after I’d cleaned it realise I forgot to phone my mum, and then it was time for another coffee…

It began to freak me out. Our minds are powerful things and if we start believing something is true, ie, I will never write another word of any value, then it’s entirely possible that we can make it come true.

I decided the only way I was going to write was to FORCE myself. So I bought myself a kitchen timer and set it for two minutes and told myself that was all I had to do – just two minutes of writing. Then I opened a random book and put my finger on a word, and wrote about that word. I didn’t worry about quality at all, and two minutes later - I had done some writing! I realised that if I kept to a rhythm, gave myself regular timed writing sessions that I could sustain – then I could write. I did this for six weeks, by which time I had sparked plenty of new ideas.

I still use this technique. I set the timer for ten/twenty minutes and write at a chapter. I do this over and over again to generate material. I then put it in scene order (chopping bad stuff) and edit with a machete until it’s a tenth of itself.
You can write the whole foundation of a novel like this. You’ll get some wonderful phrases and some surprising characters and action. Loads of crap too. But ultimately you will familiarise yourself with your own story, see possibilities, get insights, resonances. When this is done, move to stage two which is about revision/crafting. (Jenny shares her Top 10 Writing Tips below - click on the image to see the full size list.)

At 16, what would have been among the top three reads on "your list"? And what would you hope that 16 year olds may have on theirs today?

The Rainbow (DH Lawrence), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Z for Zachariah (Robert C.O’Brien).

As for 16yr old readers now - they are so lucky! The distinctions between children’s literature, YA literature and adult literature are more flexible and loosely defined then ever before. YA novels span the entire spectrum of fiction genres and are limited only by the imagination and skill of the author. There was never such an exciting time to be a reader.

Can you share one or more books and author you think are really strong recommendations for young readers or Young Adults, or authors writing for them, and why?

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie) - a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian who lives on the reservation with his alcoholic father. Poignant and funny and honest and very wise.

Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr) - how a teenager can be defined by one mistake, and how it shapes her sense of self-worth. Social realism at its best.

Bone by Bone (Tony Johnston) - a harrowing coming-of-age story that explores racial tensions in small-town Tennessee during the early ’50s. Complex and vivid relationships. The author refuses to sacrifice the humanity of any of her characters.

Granny was a buffer girl (Berlie Doherty) – A family get together to remember. Interconnecting stories, beautifully written, highly evocative.
A good children’s book can’t be created to achieve a pre-determined end result. Storytellers should give other worlds, other lives, so that readers can empathise, can think ‘what would I do if that were me?’ It’s the story - with all its complexities, with the emotional truths it uncovers, the experiences beyond the everyday that it gives – that will be the real reason why children read.

What's new and upcoming for you?

I’ve been working on my new book for a year now. I’ve written thousands of words, but most of them go in the bin. I find I return again and again to the things that preoccupy and eventually I begin to see what the book is about. It’s for young adults again and I’m working with two voices this time – a boy and a girl. I don’t know quite where they’ll take me, but I have a location and a very specific event that kick-starts the action. I’m quite disciplined and sit at my desk every day and just write, but I don’t like knowing in advance where I’m going. I never plan a structure. I like surprises.

What is your idea of a perfect weekend?

My boys and a whole bunch of friends in neighbouring caravans somewhere sunny and by the sea. Swimming, talking, beach BBQ, communal childcare.

A huge thank you to Jenny Downham for her time and considered replies, to Nina Douglas, Senior Publicity Manager of Random House Children's Books, and David Fickling. Author image courtesy of Rolf Marriott, Awards images from the Branford Boase press.

To read our review of Before I Die, click here.

The Fridge

Reader Logoby Mike
(Kathleen is back next week)

I walk towards the white door. Around its edges light bleeds into the darkness. All is silent apart from the hum of the fridge. I open the door. Like water from a burst dam the light escapes and floods the twilight edges of the kitchen.

Cold air fills my nostrils as I look inside.

Reaching in, I pick up a bottle of milk. I need to quench my thirst. Put out the fire at the back of my throat. I try to slot into order the sequence of events: the book deal that appeared and then winked away like a dying star, the white gloves and the brick through Waterstone’s window; my novel lying in the shop front in a bed of glass.

My head hurts. The characters in my mind are arguing. Damn them for waking me, demanding centre stage. Their chatter grows in volume as they follow stories across ice reflecting my inner voice. They find their rhythm and produce a hum that accompanies the fridge motor.


Wiping the milk from my lips, I tilt my head sideways and hold my ear over the lip of the glass bottle. With my free hand I strike the side of my head facing the yellow stained ceiling. They resist at first, but as I increase the fever of my attack the voices let go and fall through the light.

I watch my creations as they sink into the milk. I had loved them. Shared such intimacy with them and yet. Yet here they are severed from me drowning in three-day-old milk.

I replace the milk bottle and shut the fridge door. Darkness returns. The nine to five beckons and I head up the stairs. On the banister my white gloves lie neatly folded.

I will never write again. It is over.

Below me in the kitchen, my fridge hums.

Picture: Bradley J

Rabbit Writer -- It can be used in a story.

This can be used in a story some day.

Male rabbits are fun. Oi. Is it very common for writers to try to comfort themselves by thinking this? I know I've done this.

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by Naomi Gill

Jenny Downham - Interview part 1 of 2

The View From Here Interview:
Jenny Downham

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by Jen

Before I Die by Jenny Downham, edited by David Fickling and published by David Fickling Books, won the 2008 Branford Boase Award, which celebrates an outstanding debut novel for children over seven, and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new authors.

In Part One of the interview we discuss its research, writing and publication. In Part Two on Friday, Jenny shares her experience of winning prizes, an inspiring method of overcoming writer’s block, her recommended reading for young adults/ authors and her ten top tips which writers of all genres can use.

Jenny, let’s start with Before I Die. How did you go about creating the character of Tess?

I used to be an actor and I use a lot of acting techniques to write. I kept notebooks for each character, researching them as if I was going to play them on stage – what they liked to eat, what their hopes and fears were. It didn’t all get in the book, but it helped me to know who they were.

I kept a diary for Tess whilst I was writing, every morning I started my day by writing the previous day’s entry. Tess read the paper and listened to the news. She went for walks. I began to see things through her eyes quite a lot because I knew I’d have to write her diary later.

Regarding your research, I've read that you didn't work directly with ill teenagers or families. Why was that a conscious decision?

If I’d started interviewing terminally ill people, I think I would’ve felt compelled to honour their stories absolutely, and the point I wanted to make is that Tessa can be all of us – looking at life with absolute concentration because she knows better than most that it won’t last. Two nurses helped me with medical detail over many months. One of them was a palliative care nurse who worked with terminally ill teens. It felt really important not to get too embroiled in the medical stuff though. I wanted it to be accurate, but it was never supposed to be a medical or hospital-based story.

How and why did you decide to use the page layout and spacing that you did at the end of the novel?

Since Tess is narrating her own death, I needed a way of showing her drifting in and out of consciousness, leaving the reader behind, as she must leave her family. I wanted it to read like a poem, but I also knew it had to have a narrative engine behind it. So there are childhood memories, bodily sensations, her family talking to her (hearing is the last sense we lose), her brother’s terror, her own panic, her fantasies about the future her family will have without her, etc. I also wanted to show time passing and her physically weakening. The page breaks, punctuation and spacing were really important to me, and my editors let me be entirely prescriptive, which was wonderful.

How did you write the ending? All in one go - was it written last - or did you write the end before the middle sections? (I heard an author once say, she finished her novel holed up in a holiday flat in Brighton with nothing but a bottle of sherry, because she was so driven to write the ending she couldn't leave the flat.)

I wrote the book in narrative order and wrote the end last. I decided to write through the night. I’d never done this before, so it felt fruitful in its originality at least. I had the house to myself. I lit candles, turned off lights and tried to summon death.

I wrote for hours, until the sun came up. I wrote from every angle – others watching Tessa die, inside her head, dark tunnels, bright lights… I had to get rid of all the clichés by writing through them and I had to get rid of the critic (who often sits on my shoulder). In the morning, I had 22,000 words and my arms ached, but I knew the end was in there somewhere.

I opened all the curtains and because I’d told friends what I was planning, I got lots of supportive phone calls and then went out for breakfast. I didn’t look at the words for two weeks, which really allowed time for reflection. When I read through them again, I knew what to do.

How did you feel doing it and on completion - drained, exhilarated, did you cry?

Lots of people ask me if I cried when I was writing the book, and I didn’t. I often felt a low-level sadness as I tried to get into Tessa’s head though. I’d be walking to the park and thinking, this might be her last autumn day, or sitting in a café and thinking, this might be her last hot chocolate. In one way it was very celebratory - everything was special when it was filtered through her eyes - but it was also very sad.

The hardest thing was handing the work to the publisher after it was finished. I’d been inhabiting Tessa’s head for over two years and suddenly she was gone.

How did you go about publication? Experience of rejection? Editing? Choosing an agent?

Before I Die isn’t my first novel. My first novel is in a drawer in my bedroom and took three and a half years to write. When I finished it I sent it out to agents and publishers all over the UK. A lot of them liked it and I met a few of them, but none of them wanted to sign me up. I began to realise that first books are often where writers learn their craft and that my novel would need some re-writing. Since I had begun ‘Before I Die,’ I was reluctant to go back (to that first novel).

I particularly liked one of the agents I met - Catherine Clarke of Felicity Bryan Agency. She seemed sensitive to what I was trying to do and she thought ‘Before I Die’ sounded like a powerful story. We agreed to keep in touch and I sent her the first 20,000 words in mid- 2006. She was extremely encouraging. The first 40,000 were finished in October and 60,000 by December. At this stage I signed a contract with her and by March 2007 the book was finished. She had a hunch that David Fickling would like it (he’s a small independent publisher based in Oxford who works under the umbrella of Random House ). She showed it to him and he made a pre-emptive offer within days. Within less than 24 hours of DFB offer, the book had sold to the Netherlands. It sold in a further ten languages within two weeks.


Before I Die by Jenny Downham, edited by David Fickling and published by David Fickling Books, is the second Branford Boase Award in a row, for David Fickling, as A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd took the prize last year.

On the ‘Before I Die” Blog it explains why they were so keen to publish her so quickly. “Partly and very plainly because I don't think the public should be kept waiting a single second longer than necessary to read this book. And partly to show we can. Nowadays books sometimes have to wait an inordinately long time to get published. Often a book taken on by an editor is not published for one, two, three years... I have always revered to the nimble publishing of legends of yore like Victor Gollancz who could receive a manuscript in August and have it in the shops by Christmas. A small, personal imprint like DFB can be nimble and quick, SHOULD be nimble and quick. Especially with literary gold dust in its hands.”

David Fickling told The View From Here, "I wanted to work with Jenny because she writes like an angel, with enormous perspicuity and accuracy about human beings!”

Part Two will follow on Friday. Jenny shares her experience of winning prizes, an inspiring method of overcoming writer’s block, her recommended reading for young adults/ authors and her ten top tips which writers of all genres can use.

Author image courtesy of Rolf Marriott, award image from the Branford Boase press.

For Part 2 of this interview click here.

For the printed edition of this interview at TVFH go here.