Don’t Revere the Peer


by Sandra Norval



OK, I’ll admit it. This is my first article. It’s not the first article I’ve written, but it is the first article I’ve sent to a publication. Why? Because I have spent years giving in to the worst form of procrastination; I revere the peer.

Ask yourself this. How many times in your life – and I don’t just mean your writing career, I mean every aspect of your life – have you looked at something someone else has done and allowed it to stop you in your tracks?

I have many skills. I work as an accountant, I have a photography qualification and I teach canoeing among other ‘talents’. My big failing in all of those skills has been my fantastic ability to revere the peer.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting for one moment that you shouldn’t respect your peers, admire them or even aspire to achieve what they have. Just be sure that you don’t hold them in such high esteem that you fail to recognise your own skills.



Let me tell you my story.

I have been writing for most of my life. I was never shy about people I knew reading my work and I always received positive feedback. I even had people asking me when I would write a novel. The problem was I didn’t believe them! Whenever I read or heard someone else’s work I heard their voice and mine was always drowned out – at least to me. It never occurred to me that my voice was different, or that it was actually individual enough to stand out from the crowd. In my head the other writer was standing on a podium at the front and I was shouting from the back, unheard and even feeling guilty for interrupting.

Now I am studying for an Environmental Studies degree. I have taken a difficult route to do it, because I earn a good salary and can’t afford to give up work. To build up some experience I have had to network at every possible opportunity and swallow my pride, bottle my lack of confidence and get my face out into the world of experienced conservationists. Luckily they are mainly a friendly bunch and most are willing to help.

I joined a huge variety of different groups, grasping at every learning opportunity always assuming that they all knew everything that I didn’t. I asked one particularly supportive helpful friend to act as a mentor which, as it turned out, was the best thing I ever did. He changed my entire outlook on life simply because he pointed out that he didn’t know everything, he just knew different things to the things I did.

Wow! What a revelation! Of course it now seems blindingly obvious, and just that one piece of inspiration broke me free from the chains of awe that kept me on the ground always looking up at the peers that I had up on pedestals.

Since that day I have stepped out into the world with new confidence, I view myself with different eyes. I realise now that in actual fact, I have something to offer the world – the results of my own experiences. It is the sum of those experiences, every little moment that I have seen, every seemingly insignificant thing that I have done that gives me my voice. Suddenly I feel as if I have been given a microphone, with amps turned up to 11 and I fully intend to use it!

I’m currently waiting to hear back from a magazine on my first short story submission, and I am six chapters into my first novel. As well as these I have book ideas to fill a bookcase and the confidence to start getting them on paper. I’m setting aside the notion that someone else will have the same ideas and do it better; actually, they will just do it differently.

The simple reality is that each of your peers, and mine, have reached the place that they are at through a series of experiences and decisions. This is what makes us unique. Faced with all the same options, each person would have made different choices and ended up in an entirely different place.

You should also consider this: every time you stand in awe of someone, you may have failed to notice someone else standing in awe of you.

I have had many occasions in my life when I have been told that I am admired for all my achievements. There have even been individuals that were inspired by my actions. There is no greater compliment, and naturally, we all like the warm feeling of knowing that we can have that effect on another person but the main point that I would always make to anyone that ever tried to hold me up on a pedestal is this:

Imagine you are there, balancing up high; what a scary place that would be, always in fear of falling off. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that kind of pressure.

I also know that I’m tired of having a sore neck from always looking upwards. If I want to better myself, reverence won’t do it. Respect, inspiration and admiration will help me to recognise the aspects that I could take on board, but only looking at myself and using what I’ve learnt from others can ever take me forward on the journey that is, after all, my own.



Sandra Norval is in the process of changing her career. Currently working as an accountant she is in the final year of an Environmental Studies degree, which she hopes to use to move into conservation. She is also writing articles, short stories and her first novel, all with a foundation in the natural world. Her website is www.sandranorval.co.uk.

Global Warning The Last Chance for Change





by Paul Brown
Publisher: dakini books



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by Jane Turley



It’s rare, but sometimes you read a life changing book. It might be a religious text, a self help manual or even a work of fiction.

But it had never happened to me. Until last year.

I met author Paul Brown at a social function. He was softly spoken but possessed a quietly confident demeanour. His talk impressed me both in its delivery and content. He fielded questions in a manner which made me believe he knew his subject inside out. My curiosity was thoroughly piqued; I chatted with him afterwards and purchased a copy of his book.

It was a book that terrified me and sent my emotions into turmoil.

Why? Because I realised I was reading about something that could drastically change my life, my children’s lives and, more importantly, the lives of the entire human race.

The subject was climate change.

Global Warning, The Last Chance for Change is a factual book which aims to educate the layman about climate change and the very real possibility of global environmental disaster and massive population decline. It is a truly shocking book for not only will you discover the truth about climate change, but also how governments, politicians and businesses have been choosing short term political expediency and profit over the welfare of the human race.

The subject matter is gripping enough but it has also been written in a style which makes it easily readable; each chapter containing both text and visually stunning photographs accompanied by captions. It doesn’t matter if you’re an advanced reader, an occasional reader or even a child because every chapter, every caption, every picture, tells a story; the story of global warming.

If the information in this book was set in the context of a novel you would relish the intrigue, the greed, the lackadaisical manner of some of the key players as a tragedy unfolds and hurtles towards a dramatic ending. But unfortunately, it isn’t a novel. It’s a factual recount of a world on the edge of a precipice and although the finale may not yet be written, the prospects for a happy ending are looking increasingly remote.

Amongst the many startling and interesting facts that come to light in this book, the most alarming is that numerous scientists believe a rise of 2°C will cause a tipping point which will plunge the world into irreversible, runaway climate change. 0.8° C of that rise is already proven. However, because C02 emissions take up to 30 years to have their full effect on the atmosphere scientists have suggested that it is impossible to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 0.7°C in the next few decades. This leaves only a 0.5°C window of opportunity and maybe only a few years in which to curb emissions if we are to avoid climatic chaos.

If the point of no return is reached, the best available evidence suggests that the ice caps will continue to melt and sea levels rise. At the same time, decreasing land masses will be affected by the expansion of deserts and aridity as temperatures also rise. Initial flooding will be replaced by drought and fresh drinking water will become a valuable commodity. Huge environmental disasters will in turn trigger economic difficulties affecting each and every one of us. Food supplies will be threatened and there will be economic migration as whole towns and cities are forced to move as their homes and livelihoods become victims of the elements. Whole civilizations and cultures will either be displaced or die.

Of course, there will be sceptics who will say that the book is scaremongering. However, looking at the facts recounted, it would seem many of the sceptics have vested interests; the power of politics and profit taking precedence over logic and reason. I was truly shocked by what I read, not just by the ignorance of such actions but because history is awash with societies that have been wiped out by abusing their environments. It's said history repeats itself - and it doesn’t take much foresight to realise the possible consequences of reaching a tipping point. Only this time devastation could be on global scale.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that Global Warning made me think carefully about the moral issues such a catastrophe would raise. Would countries who had previously fought over religion and politics now fight over food and water? Would the world work together as a global community or perpetuate the very selfishness that had brought society to such a point? Would lives be sacrificed to ensure the survival of mankind? Suddenly, worrying about whether I got the kids to school on time didn’t seem quite so important.

I was glad, therefore, when towards the end of the book Paul investigates all the developments in renewable energy that can be used to replace fossil fuels which are the primary cause of CO2 emissions. The good news is that there is viable technology, be it wind power, solar power, hydro-electric and other forms of energy that can replace fossil fuel – whatever you might hear to the contrary. All over the world scientists are working towards a safer future where man lives alongside the elements, harnessing them for his own needs but without destroying the world on which we depend. But what Paul so clearly emphasises is that there has to be the political will to make the necessary changes. Because change we must - if we are to make this world safe for us and for our children.

Whilst I was never a climate change sceptic, Global Warning The Last Chance for Change has had quite a radical impact on my life, even to the extent that I have changed my car for a more fuel efficient model.

I've finally realised that time is running out. We can no longer talk. We have to act.

Before the curtain falls.


Paul Brown is the author of 9 factual books, primarily on environmental issues. He worked for The Guardian newspaper for 24 years, the last 16 as their environment correspondent. He has met with numerous eminent politicians and scientists, attended climate change conferences and travelled to some of the world’s most remote places, including Antarctica. Although he left The Guardian in 2005 he still writes a weekly column in between travelling the world educating other journalists and continuing his campaign to raise awareness of global warming. Global Warning, The Last Chance for Change was published in 2006 and was a best seller in the United States. Paul is currently writing his first novel.

You can find out more about Paul in my two part interview coming next week. In the meantime you can join millions of others across the world in supporting Earth Hour by switching off your lights on 28th March at 8.30pm local time.


Together we can make a difference.

13















Well it seems a long time ago that we started off the magazine with a team of 4 - almost a year now.

Now we are all grown up with a team of 13.

New kids on the block are:

Kerrie Anne
who will be doing an interview each month for us. Kerrie is a good friend and is great at understanding how people tick -her first interview is with Canongate author Andrew Davidson about his book The Gargoyle.

Diego Cupolo is joining us as the magazine's front page photographer. His work suits our style perfectly and April's issue features his work. (See image below). Since we started our covers have always been distinctive and Diego will be seeking out shots for us with his camera lens that continues and builds upon that, to help give us our own unique style.

So all in with editors, writers, artists, reviewers, photographers and interviewers we are set to deliver you a literary magazine with heart, passion and 13 creative sparks that are going to set the somewhat dry book world alight! Stand well back please. There you go. Ready?




Top 13 Photo credit: Dobrych

Poetry: Oliver Rice & Jason Wilkinson


For the final time this year (although, we can change our minds if The Rear View springs to life sooner than expected ...) The Front View presents the poetry submitted last year to the late, great, Hiss Quarterly before the Marvelous Merge. Enjoy!

Interview with Iain Banks Part 1 of 2

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by Mike



















The View From Here Interview:
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. He is now acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation: The Guardian has called him "the standard by which the rest of SF is judged". William Gibson, the New York Times-bestselling author of Spook Country describes Banks as a "phenomenon".
I caught up with him after he finished writing his latest book, due out later this year.



Can you tell me a bit about yourself.

55, married but separated and in the process of getting divorced, no children, living happily with partner in Fife. Merrily writing away to produce a book every eighteen months or so. Hobbies include music and hill walking. Driving a wee diesel hatchback these days after an attack of green guilt made me sell the fast cars. Gave up flying too, mostly for the same reason but also because I just got bored with the security rituals.




What's your ideal night?

No single template. Drinking and eating feature heavily as a rule, though.

What is your favourite book?

Sorry, I don't have one.

Fair enough! What book are you currently reading then?

The Gods That Failed by Larry Eliot & Dan Atkinson.




What was your first break into being a published author and how did that feel?

Getting a phone call from the late and much-missed James Hale of Macmillan while I was sitting at my desk pretending to be a costing clerk for a big firm of London lawyers in March 1983. James plucked The Wasp Factory and me from obscurity. The rest is modern studies.

Do you know anything about the plans to turn The Wasp Factory into a film and will you be involved with the screenplay and the music and lyrics to the soundtrack?

The film rights are mine again apparently, as of recently. So a film is a possibility - watch this space. I'll leave a proper screenwriter to get on with their job. Ditto the music - I have absurdly ambitious plans for my music but a soundtrack for Wasp Factory does not figure in them.

The Steep Approach to Garbadale, the family business is built around a game called Empire! Is this based on games like Risk and do you have a love of playing board games yourself?

Yes, it is. I was a Risk adept, I'll have you know. Well, I thought so at the time. At one point in the early Seventies I'd won 13 out of the 15 games my pals and I had played over the course of one summer (and, patently, remembered this statistic). I believed then that this was because I was a genius. In fact it was because I had a car. This kept me sober while my chums were all roaring drunk and often stoned as well and so not taking the game entirely seriously, while I was. I even designed a sort of super-Risk that featured a variable-geography board and lots of different types of units, plus different terrains and resources and so on. I never did persuade any of my pals to play it with me though I had a lot of geeky fun test-playing it. Anyway, Sid Meier did it a lot better.




In your book science fiction readers are described as anoraks in a conversation between Alban and Fielding. Do you think science fiction readers are seen like this and as a science fiction as well as a literary writer yourself how do you feel about the genre and its image?

Of course they are. And while there is a grain of truth here it's mostly just a patronising put-down, born partly out of a sort of technophobia. Only a culture that ever considered calling somebody 'too clever by half' and regarding this as a genuine criticism could be quite so self-defeatingly stupid about SF and its fans. On the other hand I have a sneaking respect for the keep-SF-in-the-gutter faction, too... Cripes! I'm jolly well conflicted.

Why do you put your middle initial in your name for your science fiction, was that your idea?

To keep certain of my uncles happy. There was a degree of avuncular disapproval that the good name of Menzies might somehow be seen as not good enough. Anyway, it helps distinguish the mainstream from the SF, though the debate over its usefulness is on-going.

Is there much cross over between the people that read your science fiction and those that read your literary work?

I wish I knew. Just going on the mix of people at events and so on, I think the Venn diagram concerned has a fairly generous middle bit, but obviously further market research is required.


For Iain's web site click here.

Photo Copyright(Modified): John Foley /Opale

For part 2 of this interview click here.


This interview is in May's printed edition of the magazine here.

The Muse

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by Paul

Writer's block versus inspiration.

It's amusing how we regard the first as a physical barrier, but often personify the second? One prevents us from moving forward and the other galvanises us into action. (The Greeks cornered the market on personifying inspiration, of course, fixing the number of Muses at three to begin with, but later, in response to popular demand and their growing job descriptions, increased the team to nine.) Nowadays, when we talk about having a muse though, we're often laying the role at a particular person's door. Dante had his Beatrice, Leopardi his Silvia, Rosetti his Lizzie Siddal. The muses are no longer the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, but a beautiful woman (or a beautiful man - depending on gender preference) who the writer/painter/composer has the hots for. And why not? If it works, go with it.

Now, I don't believe in writer's block any more than I believe that, if I stand still for a few hours, I'll forget how to carry on walking, but I didn't reckon I had a muse either. Maybe they come in job lots, I thought - Block and Muse - and you can't have one without the other. BUT, and it's a big BUT (so worth putting in upper case), there are certain times of day, I've noticed, when moments of inspiration hit me like... well, like moments of inspiration.

The first is between 2:30 and 3:30 in the morning, when I'd much prefer to sleep. It's at this time that I'll wake and start remembering the names of obscure bands/actors/films/songs I'd forgotten the previous day, which were 'on the tip of my tongue' at the time and which choose this moment to reintroduce themselves. And it's at this time that I realise just what isn't working in a piece of writing and how important it is to change it. For this reason, I keep a stack of Post-Its next to the bed so I can scribble these inspired ideas down in the dark, even if I can't decipher more than a word or two the following morning.

However, the second and more muse-like occasion is, for some reason, when I'm in the shower. I haven't a clue why it is, but my best ideas come out of the shower head and saturate me at this early point in the day: better words, better phrases, more interesting character dynamics, weird story-lines. Sometimes, the quality of the water takes me by such surprise that, despite having installed a water-saving shower head (being the good drought-stricken Australian that I am), the length of my shower becomes ridiculously long. It's the reason, I guess, I'm late to work so often and why our water bill needs serious attention.

This is where the muse wants to live, it seems, and I reckon it's not a bad arrangement. I am looking, however, into getting a waterproof pad (or inventing waterproof Post-Its) so I can scribble the ideas down directly, and I'm looking into building a bigger shower so I can share it with all nine muses.


A version of this article first appeared at Paul Burman's blog.

White Man Falling


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by Charlie


White Man Falling
by Mike Stocks
Publisher: Alma Books

With his wife and six daughters, Swami has lived at Number 14/B for ten years. On the day they moved in, he ripped out the interior doors and broke them up for firewood. Why would an Appa and Amma put a door between themselves and their children? Better to sleep together, side by side on the floor, your wife snoring like a pond of croaking frogs, your youngest babbling unconscious nonsense as her knees twitch amiably against the backs of your thighs.


Here, with the second paragraph to his first novel ‘White Man Falling’, Mike Stocks encapsulates what lies at the heart of this delightful book. Whilst there’s much else to enjoy and more than a little to make us think, this book is driven by love for and within the family. Certainly Mike loves his central protagonists, and I rather think he loves the idea of ‘family’ in all its meanings too. If you’re looking for a book that rails against such things, that sees relationships as doomed, love as a fool’s game and wisdom as cynical manipulation in another guise then you may well be disappointed. On the other hand if you want to laugh, be charmed and can accept that good and bad may sometimes be the result of accident just as much as design then this is the book for you.

Swami’s situation is difficult. Bad enough that he is struggling to come to terms with the stroke that forced him to retire on half-pension and made forming a coherent sentence a challenge. Added to that he is ‘blessed’ with six daughters, no sons and a wife who is determined to find a suitable husband for the eldest. No easy task with dowry costs being what they are. As for the daughters themselves, they may be dutiful but they are also smart and finding their feet in world with such horrors as email and jeans. A difficult combination. No wonder former Police Sub-Inspector R.M. Swaminathan recently attempted suicide with a puncture repair kit.

And then everything changes (although in some ways much stays the same). A white man falls to his death almost on top of Swami and before long he finds himself at the centre of both crime and deification. How this affects his family, former colleagues and friends and the people of the town of Mullaipuram in Tamil Nadu is brought alive through Mike’s articulate and witty narrative voice. Characters eccentric, corrupt, naïve and kindly (often at the same time) make up the larger family in this story of accidentally developing spirituality. What it means for these sharply observed people is the text of this book. What lies beneath is Mike’s apparent belief that mishap and misunderstanding are part of life and that absolute truth is not necessary for wisdom.



Impossible to ignore with this book is Mike’s background and immersion in poetry which adds a descriptive richness and complexity to his prose. Not the ‘look I’m a writer’ complexity found in some so-called’ literary’ prose; rather a depth and subtlety in language and structure that allows Mike to move from the sacred to the profane and back with aplomb. Make no mistake; whilst this is a very accomplished and elegant first novel, it is also a very funny one. Occasionally reminiscent of the novels of Tom Sharpe (although far less cruel) in the blackly comic descriptions of Mullaipuram and its residents, there is also plenty of amiably humorous insight into both spirituality and family life, much of which will strike a chord with the reader. Whether it truly gives an insight into contemporary southern India is an impossible question to answer from my white man perspective. However, as you can see, Mike has done his research.

Add to that the obvious delight he takes in his characters suggests to me that his voice is close to the lived experience, making Mike’s brave decision to gently satirise another culture to portray universal human traits a sound one to take.

I very much hope to read more from Mike in the future. There is always a place for timely and well thought observation portrayed through comedy (a certain William Shakespeare springs to mind) and as we shake our heads in despair at the state of the world and wonder where we’re going, work such as this brings both insight into who we are and raises a much needed smile.

Mike Stocks was born in Lancashire and educated at Birmingham University, and currently lives in Edinburgh. He writes novels, poetry and translations, and has worked both as a lexicographer and as an editor for several British publishers. He is the founder of Anon, the anonymous submissions poetry magazine. His debut novel, White Man Falling, won the Goss First Novel Award. His poetry collection Folly is published by Herla, and his translations of Roman poet Belli by Oneworld Classics.

For Alma Books' site click here.

For Mike's site click here.

A Writer's Basic Ingredients

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by Stella


I never planned to be in this strange business of giving writing tips. (I say "business" in the sense of activity rather than commerce because I'm currently not making a cent.) When I first started to write – before it dawned on me that I'd like to do this professionally – I had no master plan, no goals. No novels, no screenplays, no short stories, no searching for the perfect word or phrase, no characterization techniques, no point of view experiments, no plot structuring, no…

Sorry. I got dizzy there for a minute.

There wasn't method to my madness – just a vague notion that I was pursuing a new hobby. But over the years, as I've developed my skills, my sense of what you need in order to be a writer has developed as well. The list of ingredients has varied from time to time, and I'll probably revise it again in the future. Before unveiling my current theory, here's a little flashback to what I thought waaay back at the beginning, circa ten years ago – Stella Year 0, if you will…

Imagination 70%
Skill 30%

Perfectly simple: You make up stuff, you write it down. Also, it reflects my previous (somewhat elitist) notion that, "You can write or you can't. End of story." Thankfully, I've progressed from this superficial standpoint. Flashforward a little to Stella Year 2.67…

Imagination 45%
Skill 30%
Discipline 25%

Okay, imagination has taken quite a loss in favor of discipline – a fact which would probably give psychoanalysts a field-day – but the idea is that I started to figure out that the writing process was more complicated than the imagine-it-write-it system. Part of that is writing even when you're not in a particularly imaginative mood and forcing yourself to review what you've already written. Flashforward a little more to Stella Year 5.33…

Imagination 25%
Skill 25%
Discipline 25%
Education 25%

Once again imagination has taken a hit, and there's a new kid on the block: Education. It seemed that reading, and not just the six novels written by Jane Austen, was useful for all kinds of reasons: a) realizing that I wasn't Jane Austen; b) that there's more than one way to tell a story; and c) that there's still so much more out there that I didn't know.

I may not be the fastest of learners, but I do eventually learn – and that's the important part. Anyway, flashforward to the present, Stella Year 10.44789. By now I'm so finicky sophisticated that I've separated the list into two sub-lists, emotional and technical.

Emotionally, these are the key ingredients for being a writer:

Humility 44%
Passion 44%
Ambition 12%

Passion and ambition might seem synonymous, but I like to distinguish between the passion to write and the ambition to succeed as a writer. This undoubtedly varies a lot from writer to writer – everyone has different emotional makeup. I place ambition at 12%, putting it at slightly less than the polite percentage for tipping – just enough to keep me going but not so much that I begin to hate writing. (I was also going to factor in insanity, but that's for another post – honestly.) Humility, for me, is probably one of the most important qualities to have, because it reminds me that I have to keep trying, no matter how confident I feel about my skills at a given moment.

It's also supposed to keep me from thinking I know everything, which is bad in general, but especially bad when you're talking about creativity. Speaking of which, here's my other sub-list consisting of technical ingredients:

Creativity 13.6%
Empathy 14.6%
Observation 15%
Introspection 15%
Knowledge 14.6%
Concentration 13.6%
Discipline 13.6%

As you can see, the rather vague terms imagination and skill have broken down into more specific elements. I've given observation and introspection slightly higher numbers because they respectively refer to examining my surroundings and analyzing my own self. Empathy, you might say, belongs on the Emotional List, but in this case I treat it as a technical skill which enables getting into the mind of another person. If I put it on the Emotional List, then I'd mean it in the be-an-understanding-human-being way, and I think humility covers that.

By knowledge I mean pure book-learning, as in knowing technical definitions and having at least general background information about literature. I don't think anything will happen to you if you haven't read this play by Shakespeare, that essay by Pope, this poem by Whitman or, yes, even that novel by Austen, but being acquainted with your predecessors is a decided advantage.

So, it's two lists and three paragraphs later, and I'm now in Stella Year 10.447891. Hopefully, by the time I'm in Year 20.447891, I'll have finished that novel and a screenplay or two, and may possibly be enjoying financial and/or critical success. In the mean time, I have to work on the discipline bit, which has to counteract a fair share of procrastination. One day I will be able to kick discipline off the list, but I suspect it involves a number my unmathematical mind won't be able to grasp. Fortunately for me, math skills will never be on the list.

Interview: Patricia Wood Part 2 of 2

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by Jen














The View From Here Interview: Patricia Wood
Part 2 of 2

Part 1 can be read here. A review of Lottery and a bookplate giveaway can be found here.

***

Lottery, Patricia Wood's debut published novel, was released in the US in hardback August 2007 by Putnam and released in trade paperback by Berkley June 2008. In the UK, the hardcover came out Jan 2008 by William Heinemann (Random House) and the paperback was released recently by Windmill books, a new imprint (Random House) in January 2009. Lottery was selected as an October 2007 Book Sense Notable and included in the Washington Post Best Fiction 2007. It went on to be short listed for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.

Patricia Wood writes full time, does workshops and volunteers teaching students creative writing. She also participates in book festivals and literacy organizations.

***

In 2008 Lottery was shortlisted for the Broadband Orange Fiction Prize. Can you tell us something about the whole experience / meeting other nominees?

It was an incredible experience just to be nominated and long listed. When I found out I was on the short list I was not allowed to tell anyone for a week and I practically burst. I was thrilled to be able to go to England and meet authors I deeply respected. I considered it an honor and simply fell in love with London. There is something about being considered for an award like that which is both humbling and yet imbues you with a confidence about your writing. My only regret was that I didn’t have time to get my copy of Rose Tremain’s book autographed.

Did the nomination change your writing or your approach to writing?

Not at all. It may imply credibility at the time but you just sit down and start your next novel. At the end of the day you are still the same person.


Lottery's jacket was rebranded recently in the UK, and worldwide there are a number of different covers. Which do you like best, and do you get involved in the design process?

Some editors ask me what I like, but generally authors do not get much input into the cover design. I do love the UK trade paperback cover with the sailboats. It is quite lovely.

In January 2009, Lottery was the ‘Tesco’ Book of the month. How do you feel about books in supermarkets versus indie bookstores or chains?

I am for books being available in all venues. The thing is you go to different stores for different reasons. You may pick up the new Harry Potter at Tesco but frequent your independent bookstore for wider literary choices. I try to do book clubs for a wide number of readers- through libraries, Indie stores, chains, and I was honored that Tesco chose Lottery for their January 09 selection. It definitely exposed my novel to a wider audience.

Writers come from such a diverse range of backgrounds and yours seems more diverse than most. You say, “I consider myself a renaissance woman.” Could you tell us something about yourself and how it has led to your life as a writer?

I believe the more varied a person’s experience, the more they bring to the table when they write. I flitted from career to career because I had so many interests. I know for many years I didn’t give myself permission to write. I am a perfect example of attaining your dreams after 50. Now that I am published I feel that I am finally doing what I was meant to do.

You live on a boat in a Hawaiian harbour, which is a little unusual - do you live there full time and why? Did you ever live on ‘dry land’ and which do you prefer?

We are “liveaboards” which are people who live and sail on boats permanently. It has been a life-long dream to live on a boat and my husband and I will do it until we get tired of it or are physically unable. It is a bit of an adjustment but I can’t think of living anywhere else. Right now the wind is pushing my sailboat against the dock and I am sliding a bit sideways. Soon I’ll go out on deck and check the lines. It clears my head to have practical concerns. I include sailing in my novels frequently.

What’s your writing space like?

My writing space is in the forward stateroom and it’s modified to fit an office chair and desk. I have to work around two cats and neither shares well.

Does living on a boat ever make it difficult to write - ie: are you weather affected more than the average writer hunkered down in a back room office?

Being in close quarters lends itself to introspection. Weather does make the boat rock but just feels cozy. My writing about sailing becomes authentic when my chair slides from side to side in rough seas.

Do you attend any writing events/conferences? Why, and would you recommend them?

I attend the Hawaiian Islands Writers Conference and Retreat (formerly the Maui Writers Conference and Retreat) each year. I love this one as I can study for a week with best selling authors whom I respect and enjoy working with. This was where I learned about the publication process and got my foot in the door.

I think if you are serious about publication you have to get educated. Retreats and conferences really give an advantage. I am a fan of getting educated about the business of writing.


What advice would you give unpublished or new writers?

Sit down and write. Finish one novel and start another. Read everything. Be a voracious reader. Take workshops. But above all write. I know too many people that want to be authors and lose sight of the fact that you are first and foremost a writer.

What are you reading right now?

I usually read several books at once. Next to me on the table are Veronika Decides to Die by Paul Coelho, The Reader by Bernard Schlink, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and The Penny Tree by Holly Kennedy. I have very eclectic tastes and have been known to thoroughly read bus schedules while standing in line for the bank.

Upcoming online, I believe you are scheduled to do a live book club web cam online by Random House this spring? Can you let us know when that is and how to join you?

Yes, I'm very excited about this and looking forward to it. I will be logging in from Hawaii to talk about Lottery with readers. If you want to join the discussion on 2nd April at 7pm GMT, you need to register online now.

Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 7 pm GMT (UK time)
Register with Random House here.





















Lottery's Korean and Chinese covers.

















And if you want to win a signed bookplate enter our giveaway lottery here - closing today!

***

Patricia’s website
Patricia’s blog

Open Mike Nights -- Tyler Gomo


December 9th, 2008 “Snug Harbor – New Paltz, NY”

Pure dive bar. That is the thought that came into my head when I walked into Snug Harbor for the very first time. From the bar counter that (according to the carvings scrawled on it) had seen better days, to the ridiculous Budweiser neon sign shaped like a Fender Stratocaster that hung over the stage, to the jukebox that had a decidedly riff-rock slant; me and my acoustic felt totally out of place.
But, out of determination, I stayed. “I need this experience,” I repeated to myself. After playing coffeehouses and a rock-bar, I ought to have my dive-bar moment. I just hoped that my acoustic could take a beer bottle to the gut, just in case of a Roadhouse moment.



Tyler Gomo regales us with stories from the road. For the rest of the scene: you know where to go -- The Front View

A Great Sale at Saks




Reader Logo
by Kathleen

Before going to college, Sophie suggested her parents take up jogging. “Run outside together. Wearing bright outfits. Nobody will suspect money’s tight.”

But social tricks that worked in Oklahoma only intensified her loneliness in Chicago. The university was huge. Nobody talked to her. Sophie might be invisible.

A straight-A student on scholarship, she watched videos in lecture halls. Afterwards the teacher called for questions. Sophie always raised her hand, which went unnoticed.

Thank goodness, Sophie’s (paternal) grandmother invited her to dinner. Lucinda hadn’t seen Sophie since she was a baby. The restaurant was so fancy Sophie drew back a second. The man issuing them in knew Lucinda’s name.

“Striking resemblance,” he said, touching Sophie’s shoulder. “Like your grandmother, you’ll only grow more beautiful, not less.”

“Albert, please.” Lucinda told Sophie, “Never listen to flattery. Besides, I was never beautiful. Interesting, people said.”

Lucinda was so keen and glamorous; Sophie forgot her homesickness. They discussed financial scandals and the Mid-East.

Every Sunday, Sophie ate dinner with Lucinda, usually in her apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. Monday through Saturday, though, Sophie’s loneliness grew worse. Students who sat beside her in class would stare into space rather than say hello.

On the phone, her parents seemed to have forgotten who Sophie was. They never said they missed her or recalled anything about her. They didn’t even ask about college except to wish they’d had her chance. Instead, the topic was television.

Lucinda served poached salmon and fresh peas. She had traveled the world as a museum curator. All the men she loved broke her heart in the end. And those that loved her developed tedious habits.

In November, Sophie arrived late but Lucinda didn’t answer when Charles the doorman rang her apartment. “Come back in ten minutes,” he said, “maybe she forgot.”

The wind off the lake pushed her backwards. Cars raced past but no other people occupied the sidewalks. What if Lucinda was dead? Sophie staggered around a corner. Stop being ridiculous! But fear wracked Sophie’s bones. She walked as far as the hospital. Lucinda might be there. Heart attack or—Sophie couldn’t think what calamity might strike an old lady. A stroke!

She pretended not to panic. Approaching Lucinda’s building, Sophie held her breath. Inside, Charles rang the apartment. Still no answer though.

Sophie tore away before he witnessed her weeping. Outside she gasped, choking.

She didn’t remember returning to school. Only worrying if she should call the police. She didn’t out of fear. Like if she called, it would be true. Her pillow muffling her sobs, she didn’t notice her phone ringing. But later she heard the voicemail.

“Sophie darling, sorry I missed you. This great sale at Saks delayed me. See you next week.”

Lottery by Patricia Wood - Review & Giveaway Competition

Reader LogoBook Review: Lottery by Patricia Wood


Reviewed by Jen




After reading the shortlisted books for the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction, I considered why I enjoyed some more than others. And I came to the conclusion that I like books to work on multiple levels and I like to be entertained. Lottery achieved both.

The book addresses a broad range of themes, society's values and prejudice, and the power of unconditional love, narrated from the unreliable point of view, of thirty-two year old Perry, whose IQ is 76. He is cognitively-challenged, NOT retarded. "You have to have an IQ of less than 75 to be retarded. "

The story centers on what happens to him, how he is perceived by others and the decisions he makes, after the key catalysts that trigger the action-packed story: his Gram dies and he wins twelve million dollars in the State Lottery.

It's funny, it's sad, serious and easy reading. But don't let that fool you into thinking it's insubstantial. The more you delve into the relationships between the characters and Perry's perception of them and theirs of him, you are forced to examine your own prejudices and values. The relationships are all beautifully crafted, authentic and serve to make us question: What weighting to we give to intelligence, beauty and wealth? What do we value in life? What makes a family?

The language is very carefully selected and used to enhance our understanding of the characters, reveal prejudices or make the reader laugh.

"My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded. Gram always told me the L stood for lucky."
At first, the use of the "r" word might make you feel awkward. Later you see how it is used by various people in authority, his schoolmates and what language is used by those trying to be sensitive to his position 'on the boundary' between the labels that IQ numbers assign. Author Patricia Woods' academic and hands-on teaching experience of people in these groups is apparent in her authentic but sensitive writing. That word makes Perry angry but he always keeps in control.

Perry sees the world as it is for him. Sometimes we need to remember that he is not meant to be a 100% factually accurate narrator. He narrates his own story, as he sees it. The short sentences allow us to see his thought patterns develop, the connections he makes, and his sometimes highly sensitive and accurate perception of people. We get to see inside his thoughts, hope with him, dream with him and share in his contentedness. Perry is a man who is not sidetracked by some of the worldly distractions in the everyday world, and keeps his focus on doing his best at his work, helping people and simply being himself, no matter how other people see him.

In today's economy, it is wonderfully heartwarming to have the opportunity to meet Perry, and have him remind us, what the real world is like and what really matters, from such a grounded point of view. And to have the opportunity to laugh whilst examining our own values, is a bonus.

This book's story lingers with me as a reader. Read it slowly, as Per would, to appreciate it fully. You'll be sad to get to the end. And immensely happy. As Gram would say, "This is better than chocolate bars!"

***

Giveaway Competition:


To win a Lottery signed bookplate from author Patricia Wood, leave a comment below and we'll draw a winner from all the entrants out of a hat - our very own little lottery. Competition closes: March 20th after Part Two of our interview with Pat.



***

Read the interview with author Patricia Wood. Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Bigger, Stronger, Glossier

Short promo for The View From Here ...



See our Submissions page for details of how to submit to us.

Bionic limbs optional.

Interview: Patricia Wood Part 1 of 2

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by Jen

The View From Here Interview:
Patricia Wood

Lottery, Patricia Wood's debut published novel, was released in the US in hardback August 2007 by Putnam and released in trade paperback by Berkley June 2008. In the UK, the hardcover came out Jan 2008 by William Heinemann (Random House) and the paperback was released recently by Windmill books, a new imprint (Random House) in January 2009. Lottery was selected as an October 2007 Book Sense Notable and included in the Washington Post Best Fiction 2007. It went on to be short listed for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.

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This wonderful first novel is about a guy who starts off with all the chips stacked against him and still comes out a winner. It’s an underdog novel, and the underdog is a most satisfying hero, for more than any other protagonist, the underdog is the one we love to love….Patricia Wood’s portrait of Perry is so vivid and funny and poignant and joyful that it avoids the disappointing flatness of the predictable.” -- Washington Post

What I love about Lottery is that it is much more than a novel about a windfall affecting a simple soul - it's a book about a stupendous event affecting a great number of people, all the winner's friends, and especially the reader.” -- Paul Theroux

***

Patricia, let’s start with Lottery. Perry has an IQ of 76 but “is not retarded”. Do you or did you work with people who have a disability? You deliberately made Perry non-specifically with special needs. He’s not Down Syndrome, or autistic or anything in particular….

Perry could be everything or nothing. It’s so seductive to label. Developmentally delayed? Cognitively challenged? Mentally retarded? Autistic? Learning disabled? Whatever. Any of those immediately puts a person into a little box.

When I was a public high school teacher my students all had different abilities and different special needs. Additionally my brother-in-law had Down syndrome, and my PHD work was in disability and diversity. Because I’ve had this experience I think I’m able to look at how all of those things interconnect and conflict. Oftentimes academics have “Ivory Tower” ideas of how we should educate those with special needs, and parents have other more practical concerns, and teachers who work with these students every day can get overwhelmed and jaded.
I also wanted to show that if someone with a cognitive challenge has one person who is truly meaningful in their life, whether a grandmother, a sister a friend (a mentor if you will), then that person is likely to achieve far more than otherwise expected.

What about the use of the word retarded? You explore it in the book and you ask that of your book club readers, “how does it make you feel?” What is your opinion and how should one use that or other terms?

There are certain words that diminish a person’s worth and cause society to marginalize them and retarded is one such example. A person is defined by many things and not just by what their IQ is. I object to its popularity both in comedy routines and in trendy speech by teenagers. I think it desensitizes us and makes us less empathetic when we use those words.

You mentioned ‘labeling’, and you pointed out in the book, this 76, the number, and if you were 76 you were OK and if you were one number lower you were not. That was interesting to think about…

We give these numbers to everything: IQ, grades on tests, ratings, below average, average, above average- And what’s considered rich? A million dollars, two million? We have these ideas about who and what we are based on numbers. Am I too heavy? Too skinny? Do we all really want to be like everyone else?

I had students in my class, at a variety of IQ levels. Schools don’t test for IQ very much anymore, unless the parents ask for it, but it used to be always tested, and that was it. Everyone was tested, that was where you fit in, and you couldn’t change. While researching my book I was trying to find what constituted, ‘retarded’. You know I couldn’t find a straight answer. One country had 68, and another was 70. Even state to state, here in the United States it varied. In criminal situations there is a self-identification segment, to being excused of the consequences of a crime, you have to be interviewed, tested, but you need to be able to say, ‘yes, I am mentally deficient’, and often times the person will not do it, even if it means being put to death, they will not admit to anything but being slow. I thought all of this was fascinating yet somewhat depressing at the same time. Have we really not progressed any further than this?

You interact with your readers in a number of ways online, through your blog and through web book club meetings. What feedback do you get?

Authors would love everybody to enjoy their book, but that’s not the way it happens. My words may provoke one person to think and examine their beliefs or may cause another to roll their eyes. One person will say it’s deep and profound, another will say it’s a cute little beach read. What somebody gets out of your book is what they get out of your book. You have no control over readers. You have to accept that.

It adds to, and makes a really interesting discussion in a book club, when one reader feels comfortable to say, you know Patricia, I really hated the end, or I just didn’t believe Perry, or I didn’t like this or that. It makes for a more interesting dialogue. Some people have been put off by some of the language. Keith uses the f-word a lot- it adds to his authenticity as a Vietnam vet. Authors have no control over what their characters do. I did not sit down and plan ahead of time that Keith was going to be a big, farting, rude, Vietnam vet who said the f-word. He spoke in my head and that’s what he became. In the same way that Perry became the way he was, and Gram the way she was. It is very interesting to readers in book club discussions to hear about how my characters came to be.

How tightly do you plan your plot in advance and how much do you allow your characters to develop and shape it as you go along?

Everybody who writes novels does it differently. This is what’s so wonderful about writing - anybody can do it, and you don’t necessarily have to go to school to learn it. You can to learn it by doing. I always have the story in my brain. I never start a book where I don’t know what the story is about. I know there are authors who do. People start writing and they say,”I love this character, I’ll just write and see what he does.”

I dream and my dream will be an abbreviated tiny synopsis, and as I write, I get ideas for more and more things happening. Generally I have the first and the last chapter written. I’ll create a file, and use my novel template with empty chapters and fill them in.

Lottery is the fourth novel I’ve written even though it was the first I’ve gotten published. I got a quick idea of what the book was going to be about, I made 40 chapters, I wrote the prologue, and essentially the essence of the story is as I wrote it that first day. That prologue changed very little but the rest of the book morphed a bit. My epilogue was pretty much the same but I didn’t know which characters were going to be there or not. I had no idea I was going to kill off any characters until I did…

For the ending I believe you had a number of different scenarios thought out?

I wrote four different endings. You don’t sit down, write a book, and that’s it. You write drafts, and then you go back and see how can you make this character better. Or you might say, should this character really be two characters? I don’t think I need this other character, he started off being important and he’s no longer important. Should Perry and Cherry get married? OK, what if they don’t? Should I just have them have a needy night of sex, and that’s it? There were lots of different ideas I had for the ending. Ultimately, it was important for me to have at least a transient happy resolution.

How did you know when Lottery was ‘finished’ and how did you feel on completion?

You never really know. You just suspect that it’s close. I often let a work sit for several weeks and then go back and revise. I just felt I took the story as far as I could at that moment and decided to query literary agents. If I hadn’t gotten interest and offers I would have gone back and revised some more.

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

I got myself educated about the publication process by attending the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference for several years. I networked with other writers and I kept writing novel after novel. I learned how to write a good query letter and I kept going even after I got many rejections. I didn’t give up and I continued to write non-stop. I was fortunate that I was able to do this without losing hope. The thing is I love to write and I would be writing still even if I wasn’t published.

***

Part Two of the Interview will follow on Friday in which Patricia talks about being shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2008, her advice for new writers and living and writing on boat in a Hawaiian harbour. I'll review Lottery tomorrow.

And look out for our mini 'lottery' tomorrow after the review, when all comments will be entered in a draw to win an exclusive Lottery bookplate, signed by Patricia.

***

Patricia’s website
Patricia’s blog

For a printed edition of this interview go here.

“THIS IS THE FIERCE LAST STAND OF ALL I AM”

by Mark Liam Piggott




One day last summer someone texted to say they’d just seen my novel in a bookshop. Leaving work early I tubed it to Camden and walked slowly into Waterstones. I’d fantasised about this moment for so many years that I wanted to savour every moment. There it was: “Fire Horses”. Holding it in my hands I closed my eyes in supplication.

It’s tempting now to look back over my life and see everything as part of some inevitable destiny. But until last year, even with a few short stories and poems published, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have a full-length work of fiction accepted. All I had was an instinct, an excuse: if you fill your life with experience, you might have something to write about.

‘It was exciting, alone with the lightning...’

I wrote this rhyme as a ten-year-old only child, wandering the slopes and streets of what was then a grimy mill town to which mum had fled, leaving Manchester for a tumbledown wreck on the hills. For companionship I wrote poems and jokes, peppering my imagination with imaginary enemies; creating alternative realities to those bleak, Wuthering moors.



When mum re-married we moved to the backside of town and I became one of the park hoodies, drinking cider, taking drugs, fighting for kicks: young people haven’t changed as much in 25 years as the media like to pretend. At the comp where I’d learned to survive by acting stupid my English teacher asked if I’d ever considered writing for a living; I hadn’t, the very idea seemed bizarre.

Like a lot of disaffected people I started to like the idea of becoming a writer but I was deemed too disruptive to stay on at school. Having left home that same summer I was sleeping in cellars and on sofas, sharing damp rooms with friends. Unable to find work or sign on I turned more and more to crime and started to get into trouble with the law. Eventually I took to supplementing the pittance I got from a training scheme tending Sylvia Plath’s grave by nefarious means.

Fortunately by then I’d met Linda, a local mum who took me in as part of her family. When Linda moved to London she asked if I’d like to come: I didn’t have to think for long. I was 18 and wanted to see 20.

With Linda’s encouragement I fell into freelance journalism, documenting the dispossessed – the homeless, addicts, Kirk Brandon. In Belfast I interviewed the leader of the UDA shortly before he was assassinated then sold the piece to the Observer. Soon I was living in an Archway squat, wrote for the broadsheets and even presented a chunk of Channel 4’s Network 7 (not an experience I’d wish to repeat).

But I grew bored by the stories I wrote; my own life and times seemed more interesting. Sometimes it seemed I was undercover in my own life, not sure if I was researching the seamier side of life, or part of it. Abandoning journalism I eked out a living labouring, cleaning, and signing on (or as I saw it, my government grant).

As part of this instinct for experience I got into the burgeoning rave scene; as the Great Hurricane knocked out London I wandered round Soho on acid; I drank the pubs dry and travelled the world, searching for recognition, placidity, and love, bearing my hypocritical oath: embrace your contradictions.

Frankly, I was impossible.

My first attempt at a novel “proper” started as an excuse to the dole, a chat-up line, a way off the building site; and also perhaps as a way to bring a semblance of order to the chaos of my life (much of it my own creation). Unfortunately, the first publisher I approached was complimentary about my writing; and so it was that I was condemned to a lonely place.

Publication became a possibility, then an obsession. Rewrite after rewrite, manuscripts despatched with powerless hope and atheist prayer, then those dismal mornings, coming down from some chemical haven, slugging cheap wine to toast the sunrise, sobbing as I heard the melancholic sound of the postman wrestling with the flap...

I’d rage to anyone who’d listen that the world of publishing was closed to me, they wouldn’t let me in; my memoir would be titled “The Opposite of Nepotism”. But the fact was, my writing was too raw, too uneven; good in places but probably unpublishable. When I look at it now I thank Christ it wasn’t published: but that’s now.

An angry young man, but never hard, I got into numerous fights; as the Whitty’s x-ray department can confirm the bus shelter won every time. One night I turned up on the doorstep of two friends covered in blood; they suggested I go to college. I spent three years learning about better writers than I and left Uni with a degree, debt, and an agent.

My agent couldn’t sell my “thriller”, my debts spiralled and my bank accounts closed down; once again booze and drugs filled the void. One night I put my hand through a window and the police who’d come to arrest me whisked me to hospital for emergency surgery. Then Linda, who had given me so much love and encouraged my writing, got ill and died. She was 50.

At 33 I was too old and too weary to go off the rails yet again. Instead, with the support of my new wife, I got off the dole, neglected the drink (though not completely) and took a fresh look at my writing. Being published was the only way I could make any sense of my hallucinogenic life.

Instead of writing another thriller I returned to the novel I’d first drafted when Thatcher was still theoretically in charge. Drugs-and-dole novels set in the Eighties have become a genre now; but that was the world I wanted to portray, not in the “phoney-phonetic” style used by Irvine Welsh’s pale imitators, but using a poetic style I persist in calling “savage whimsy”.

Our daughter arrived, the rejections got sweeter, but still I couldn’t get a deal so I went to Manchester to take an MA in novel writing. All those courses can really teach you is how to edit, but that was what I needed. That first morning, as we sat in a ring introducing ourselves, the tutor said chances were only one of us would get published. I knew it would be me.

I’m sure everyone felt the same...

When my son was born and 40 struck I was saying to anyone who’d listen that it didn’t matter anymore if I ever got published; all that mattered was that I kept writing. But inside, I was in utter despair. I’d started out writing to avoid getting a job, then worked my arse off for twenty years, and all, it now seemed, for nothing.

One afternoon I received an email:

Hi Mark, just wanted to let you know that Tom has now finished reading Fire Horses and, to my delight, agrees with me that it could well be right for us. So…just wanted to let you know that we’re still very interested and would like to have another meeting to discuss things with you if that’s OK.

On that strange afternoon when I heard my novel had been accepted I sat in my study, Linda’s photograph looking down. When I thought of those who’d hurt me I felt vindicated; when I thought of those I’d hurt, I felt sad. The two cancelled each other out: I just felt numb.

They might not believe me but I never set out to hurt anybody – except, sometimes, myself. Nevertheless,

sometimes people got hurt. All the pain, selfishness, friendships forsaken and lovers forced out by my obsession; was it really worth it? As I sat there, I had to remind myself I had no choice. There was nothing else I’d ever wanted to do. So: now what?

As I sat in this lonely place, uncertain even how to feel, my baby son stuck his head round the door, grinned toothlessly, and crawled towards me making happy noises. I knew, then, it was time to let go: the fight was over. Opening my arms I stooped to pick up my beautiful boy, and smiled.

Mark is the author of Fire Horses by Legend Press. His second novel Out of Office has had an offer of publication.

Photo credit letterbox: David Bleasdale

Interview with WriteWords Part 2 of 2

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by Mike


The View From Here Interview: WriteWords





WriteWords is a Writers' Community based in the UK that provides inspiration and feedback for writers across the globe. One of the founders, Anna Reynolds , who is the News Editor and interviewer for the site, tells us about the community and its origins.

Part 1 of this interview here.

Do you ever have any problems with authors who have issues with feedback they have received from the writing groups?

Not really- this is partly due to the way we moderate- we don’t miss much- and partly due to the fact that people tend to gravitate towards us because they want a supportive place in which to unveil their work. Of course over the years people have received critiques that they feel have been too strongly worded, or aggressive, or rude, and we’ve dealt with these on an individual basis- and also by giving suggested guidelines for critiquing, including allowing the owner of the work to indicate what level of critique they’d like- gentle, fairly strong, or no-holds-barred. So writers set the tone to some extent. It’s also the case that if you join a WriteWords group, you’ll get a safer place to discuss your work, as groups tends to feel a responsibility towards its members. Writers are generally pretty nice people, I think; they’ve all had to deal with rejection and criticism, so they –mostly- have a sensitivity about how to word things. Mostly.


Do you remove aggressive comments?

Well, first of all, the WriteWords community are remarkably good at moderating themselves- and operate as a good community should, mutually supportive, loyal, etc- they are also vigilant at spotting people who are out to cause trouble, or stir things up in an aggressive or downright rude way. We do remove posts if they are extremely insulting, or deliberately provocative in a negative way- we're not acting as censors, but keeping the majority happy. We contact the person who's made the comments to give them a gentle warning, and if that doesn't work, then we send in the heavies.



How has the site been received by the industry - do you have agents or publishers as members?

One of our very first members/supporters was agent Simon Trewin, then PFD and now United Agents- he’s famously accessible, but has always been a great fan of the site and in the early days, even commented on people’s work- obviously we’re too big now for that to be practicable for him- he’d be snowed under- but there are plenty of other agents, editors and magazine editors who’ve given us their time, advice, or support, for example responding to specific questions, or in the form of an interview or many other ways. Generally people in the industry love the site- we have tons of great writing showcased for them to see, bright people who have good and interesting queries and ideas, and often agents/publishers etc come to us to tell us about changes to the way they work, and inviting our thoughts and opinions.


Do you have plans to develop the site further?

We’re always developing things- that’s the joy of working purely online, that we can adapt and be fluid. That might be in small ways, such as changing a page layout to make navigation around the site easier, or it might be something like adding a new feature such as the add-your-own-blog, or responding to good ideas and feedback from a member.



Can you tell us some success stories from WriteWord members.

Some recent examples are one of our members was longlisted for the Waterstones Childrens Book Prize 2009 for material which she initially on WW, another was published by Macmillan New Writers last month. Again the novel was workshopped on-site. One members' novel has just been accepted for publication by Flambard Press, due out May/June 2009 and an earlier draft of one members story posted on WW for critiques, has been shortlisted for the Aesthetica Magazine creative works competition in the fiction category. As a finalist, he will be published in a book that will be available in Borders nationwide from 8 December. There's countless other examples of success on site.


What is your view of the publishing industry at the moment from the point of view of new writers?

Well, everything people filter back to us says that adaptability is the key- writers may not have the luxury of saying they don’t change tack, or refuse to write in a particular genre, or don’t really do publicity, etc. That’s not to say that desperation is ever going to be the answer- it’s still true that your own original strong ‘voice’ is what will prosper, but writers do have to be as web-savvy as possible, get to grips with viral marketing, Twittering, etc, themselves and not rely on the publisher to do everything- also we are hearing that the more you can do to polish your mss before submitting it the better- with cuts in editorial staff, there’s less time to nurture and edit new writers, so make use of good critiquing services and groups.



What is your view on self-publishing?

As long as you know what you’re letting yourself in for, go for it. Check out the company/people behind the outfit you’re going with, look at other books they’ve produced- are you happy with how they look? Be aware of what the limits will be- the marketing and PR and admin being down to you, be sure you can afford it, and I suppose don’t kid yourself- do it because you want that book in print and that is what a self-published book is- the rest is up to you. It’s been incredibly successful for some people, and for others it’s about having a book they can gift to family and friends and have satisfaction in seeing on their shelf. To thyself be true. Oh, and ask for help and advice- this is a question that continually comes up on WriteWords, and lots of members have great, sane, useful advice, so don’t feel you need to reinvent the wheel.


Can you give any advice to new writers?

Lots, but they may well have heard it before. Read tons, not just in your market/genre/media but everything- playscripts, filmscripts, poetry, classic and contemporary, journalism, etc- read from a point of view opposite to your usual. So if you usually tend to read women’s fiction, try reading some really butch male writing- it might not be your thing, but it helps shift your perspective and widens your vision.

Keep a ‘jewel box’ of ideas, cuttings from newspapers, little things that might inspire a story or a moment, snatches of overheard dialogue, photos, old postcards…this has never failed me when I’m jaded or blocked

Write every day, if you can, even if it’s just a line or a germ of an idea..

Join WriteWords. Find a writing ‘friend’.

Enjoy it- it’s not a series of hurdles to be endured. Well, it is, sometimes, but it should be the best fun you can have as well. Otherwise why the bloody hell are you doing it?



Visit WriteWords here.