I was at the royal wedding last week. I mean, I wasn’t actually sat in the church of course – I was around the margins, doing my PR job. Sorting out media interviews, sitting in green rooms, arguing over wrist bands, pushing through crowds.
That’s my role at important events – I’m there but nobody notices. Do you remember Zelig? It was a film by Woody Allen, back in the day, about a character who was always on the fringes of history – popping up anonymously in the back right corner of photographs. That’s me, I’m Zelig. And that’s most writers I think. We like to be where the action is, but we don’t want to be part of the action, we want to observe it.
Just a quick blog this week to urge writers to enter story competitions. This is partly because I’m currently judging one which is now open so big plug for that:
That’s the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition. It’s now open for entries and you can find all about the rules and how to enter if you click here.
I was talking to a fellow writer at a recent book signing event, he was telling me he had never once, in all his days, entered a short story competition, though he had written many stories. His main issue with competitions was that you have to pay an entry fee. Well yes, you do, but it isn’t massive and it usually goes back out in prize money and in paying the judges. In some cases, such as the Magic Oxygen competition for which I have regularly been a judge, it goes to charity.
Not everything can be free is the message I suppose, some things have a value. That goes for the books which people have spent time writing and it goes for writing competitions too.
The British novelist Barry Hines told a story of sitting in a staff room after giving a reading at a school in Lincolnshire when a member of staff asked him the weirdest question he had ever been asked about his writing.
“You know that novel you wrote, A Kestrel for a Knave” asked the teacher sitting next to him. “Did you write it on purpose or by accident?”
Hines was momentarily at a loss. He could just about grasp the idea of someone writing a few lines of verse by accident, but a whole novel? Thousands of words, years of work? That would be some accident.
Recently I was interviewed by the amazing and successful author Jane Howard for her website, you can find that interview if you click here. And among other things she asked me which authors inspire me.
And what I said was this:
All authors inspire me – all of them, good ones, bad ones, self-published, small press, big publisher. I think writing books and stories is a tremendous thing for people to be doing, we hold a mirror up to society, we are its conscience and its soul. That’s no small thing to be involved in.
If you are an author of any great fame sooner or later someone is going to ask you for writing tips. It’s the law.
Does this happen in other professions? Do top plumbers get asked for plumbing tips which then appear in plumbing blogs? I’ve led too sheltered an existence to know for sure but I certainly hope those blogs exist, and in my heart I believe they do. Plumbing tips would probably be a lot more use than writing tips anyway. Advice for writers tends to be subjective whereas, if your toilet is overflowing and you need to stop it – that’s very much objective.
When people ask me about writing, which sometimes they do, one of the questions they are most likely to ask is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’
It’s a tough one to answer, partly because I don’t think about the process very much and also because there isn’t just one place where ideas are floating around and we writers gather with our butterfly nets and haul them in. At least, I’m saying there is no such place, if there is let me know, it will make things a whole lot easier.
When people ask me why I write fiction, as sometimes they do, I’m kind of at a loss. So full of words usually I find I have none.
So I have a stock response which is to say that I don’t know why I write except that I feel compelled to. I don’t necessarily enjoy writing so much as I find I need to do it, because it’s part of me.
So that deflects the question but doesn’t really answer it.
I’m writing a first draft at the moment which is always a confusing time. A time full of optimism and doubt, of positive thinking and self-loathing.
You’re creating a whole new world, so it’s never going to be straight-forward.
I think the tyranny of detail is something which weighs heavy. Is this or that bit right? But it’s best to press on.
I was watching an old repeat on TV recently of a sitcom called The Royle Family. It was being shown because its creator, Caroline Aherne, died recently from cancer, tragically young at 52.
Neither Caroline nor her work will mean a great deal to people outside the UK I don’t suppose but here for a while, in the nineties and noughties, she was something of a force of nature and brought a type of writing to television that we don’t really see any more and that, right at the moment, we really need.
I was delighted this week to give a talk at the Evesham Festival of Words in the UK about writing to win short story competitions. I won a big one in the UK some years ago called the Bridport Prize and more recently I have also become a judge for story competitions.
So I was asked for my suggestions about what a writer can do to improve their chances of winning these big writing contests.
I offered five simple tips I think can put people on the right track towards doing well in these competitions. During the conversation we all had after my talk a fellow writer added an important bonus tip – which is to seek out the competition anthologies which publish the winning stories in these competitions and read them, so getting an important insight into what it takes to win.
Here are my original five tips: