Wednesday 30 October 2013

The Hits and Misses of Short Story Readings

Short story readings can be really hit and miss, can't they? Even if the stories are great there's always a mumbler who'll swallow one whole. Often the worst reader will have the longest piece, which could be a masterpiece, though no one will know because they can't hear it. A shopping list read by an engaging reader is more enjoyable than a well-written story delivered in a quiet monotone by someone with their eyes glued to the page.
Liars' League has avoided this problem by carefully selecting their stories and then getting actors to read them out. The result is a consistently entertaining short story evening which I would be happy to recommend to my friends, and I don't do that lightly because in the past I've had to buy a round of drinks as an apology for what they've been put through.
One such terrible short story reading was held in a pub in Charring Cross. It was years ago and I'd been invited to read an excerpt from my book so I was feeling upbeat. When I arrived I discovered the pub hadn't been reserved for the event. We just had a corner of it.  
As it was a Friday in London, obviously there were people coming in, loosening their ties, unbuttoning their top buttons, stretching their toes under the table, heels momentarily vacated; everyone generally looking forward to unwinding with a drink. People were in good spirits and soon the laughter from one group started to overshadow the reading. This time mumbling wasn't the problem. The reader, and organiser, incensed by their racket, which in my mind was perfectly justifiable, started to read her piece louder. And louder. AND LOUDER, until she was shouting. The group continued chatting and laughing oblivious of the great literary event taking place in their midst.
The reader was not happy. She circled the groups' table reading at the top of her voice. They were baffled. She was determined to punish them with her story. They just wanted a drink. By that point, three stories in, a drink is all I wanted to. Problem was I was blocked in by chairs with no access to the bar,  or the exit, which soon became more desirable than the bar. It went on for hours. Pure torture.
My faith in short story events was lost for a while after that. Fortunately evenings at Storytails and Liars League helped restore it. I never stopped writing short stories though and this Saturday 2nd November I'm taking part in the E17 Short Story Walk for Waltham Forest's festival Words of Waltham Forest. It involves six writers reading  a short story each in six different venues. The idea is listeners walk together to each venue, stop to listen to a story, and then continue on to the next venue. The best bit is there's unlikely to be any mumbling because we've just received this wonderful message from the organiser, Ken Barlow:
"I know this is probably telling you how to suck eggs, but please do try and practice reading your stories as much as possible, and when reading them try and do it as slowly as possible, with appropriate pauses.  Also, try and look up and engage the audience with eye contact, rather than just looking down at your piece of paper.  Sounds obvious, but I've seen a lot of awful readings with people mumbling, reading too fast and looking down, including from professional writers."
Perhaps he was at that Charring Cross pub all those years ago. The point is you can now expect great stories read loud enough for everyone to hear. Except mine. I'm going to be reading my story Fishy Business in Walthamstow Central Library so I'll probably whisper. Or mouth it. Maybe sign language. Don't let that put you off though... Come along!
Love Short Stories?
My short story collection SHORT STORIES FOR BUSY ADULTS  is available for the kindle (Cost £1.53 / $2.33) and includes 10 short stories  which have been either shortlisted, highly commended or performed at a literary event. It offers a variety of genres, mixing comedy and drama. There are characters in love, in denial, insane, in character and one who just can’t make his mind up.


Monday 28 October 2013

#5 PatheticPitches - Highly Confidential

This spoof cover letter was submitted by writer, Ben Blackman, who blogs at Red Trouser Days and tweets as @Ben_Blackman

If you'd like to write a pathetic pitch or rubbish cover letter for my blog, please send it over to If it's funny I'll be sure to post it! (Word Limit: 500 words)

Read last week's pathetic pitch: BREAKING BAD EGGS.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

NaNoWriMo - How do they do it?

Next month thousands of people will be taking on the mad challenge of writing 50,000 words in one month for National Novel Writing Month. With 10 days left to begin, participants have started voicing their hopes and fears across the social networks while organisers and veterans are posting advice and tips on how to cope.
I'm guessing the top tips must include: 1. Quit your day job 2. Separate from your partner 3. Give up children / pets / friends for adoption. As much as I love writing with the proverbial gun to my head, even I can't get my head around how people manage to get that many words down in so little time. It's not just the word count either. It's the fact they must know enough about their plot to keep bashing it out. So how do they do it?
Laura Chapman is a writer, blogger and co host of the virtual discussion #ChicLitChat. This will be her 4th year doing NaNoWriMo. I got in touch to find out how she does it.
Are you a full-time writer? No. For the past year I have been a full-time communications coordinator at a museum in Lincoln, Neb. While some of that job involves writing, I also do social media, advertising, marketing, public programming, etc. During my first two years participating in NaNoWriMo, I wrote corporate publications, such as newsletters, website articles and employee manuals, for various industries. That job was also full-time and required me to travel about 20 weeks a year. I would guess that about half of my debut novel, which will be out this winter, was written in airplanes, airports and cheap motels.
How many words do you usually write in a month? It definitely varies. I typically post between 20 and 30 blog entries a month, which requires quite a bit of writing. I tend to do my novel writing in big binges. The word count on my books can vary from as few as 5,000 words a month to 50,000.
How have you managed to hit 50K every year? By making NaNoWriMo a priority and by sticking it out until the end. In my three years of passing the finish line, I have only once known I would hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. In year one and year three I submitted my word count in the evening of Nov. 30. The second year, I reached 50,000 words a few days early. Something I did the first two years, which I plan to do this year, is scheduling a few days off from work.
How much of your plot do you sort out before you begin NaNoWriMo? The first year I wrote a rough two-page outline on Nov. 1. The next two years (and this year) I put together my ultimate plotting kit. You can read about it more in this blog post, but basically I create character sketches, identify the 10 key scenes in my book and do a chapter outline of the book. I’m a planner and sorting out that crucial information in advance enables me to focus on telling the story when I sit down to write. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes deviate from that plan, but I like having one to start.
What's your daily writing routine for November? Again, it definitely varies. I’m usually at my best at generating word count during my first and last week of the month. During week one, I’m so excited to tell my story I wake up an hour earlier than usual and write before work. Sometimes that means going to work with dirty hair, but that’s a sacrifice worth making.
If I have an idea during work, I’ll jot it down on a Post-it and save it for later. I try to find about 30-45 minutes during lunch to do more writing. When I get home after work, I make sure to take some me time. I’ll make dinner, maybe do something fun for a bit and then sit down to write again for a couple of hours before bed. I do try to avoid reading any full novels or watching TV except at designated times, because I find it distracts me from writing. On weekends, I try to write in two or three two-hour blocks each day. I’m a big fan of American football, and November is a prime time in the sport. If I know there is a game I want to watch each day, I plan my writing around the game.
The first and last week of the month, I also find myself writing for long periods of time on Friday nights. Something that helps me do this is to find a writing buddy also working on NaNoWriMo. We’ll get together, put in our headphones and tell each other we won’t speak again until we hit a certain word count. I have a healthy competitive streak. Admittedly, after about eight days, I’ll find myself skipping out on a day of writing, but I still try to write for at least a few minutes – even if it only yields 250 words – because it keeps the story on my mind.
What do you do when you get stuck? During any other month, if I find myself getting stuck I stop to consider why I am stuck. Is it something wrong with the story? Do I need to change what’s happening to make it work better? During NaNoWriMo, I’ll skip to another scene.
Something else that helps me when I’m stuck? I step away from the computer and try writing out the scene with a notepad and pen or pencil. For whatever reason, I find it much easier to fill out a piece of paper than I do a blank screen. Once I get going (and I try to only write a couple of pages by hand), I’ll transfer it to the computer. By then, I’m so engrossed in the scene I keep going. I also like to pick a song that sets the tone for a scene. I’ll put it on repeat and it helps me get lost in the story.
Do you have special writing / brain food? Kind of like a person training for a marathon, I try to eat a protein-rich diet, because it helps me with my energy. To help me save time, I’ll try making a full dish, like lasagna or enchiladas, which I can re-heat and eat throughout the week. Here’s a recipe for the enchiladas I make at least once every November. I also try to drink more water, because I feel better when I’m hydrated. Admittedly, I also tend to bribe myself with candy and energy drinks along the way, but I figure the extra water balances out those sweets and caffeine.
What sacrifices do you make to reach the word count? Sleep is a big one. Not all of the time, but when I’m seriously invested in a story, I tend to stay up late writing and I’m willing to wake up early, too. I also cut back on drinking during November. I’m not a lush by any means, but I’ve found it’s hard to get much writing done if I’m spending every weekend night in a bar, not to mention recovery time the day after. The biggest sacrifice is time. While I still manage to spend time with friends and family, they know my main focus will be on my book, so we hang out in smaller doses. And they know there’s a good chance I’ll talk through any issues I might be having.
What will you be working on this time? I’m working on a stand-alone women’s fiction novel. I don’t want to say too much about the story yet, but it will be a romantic comedy that involves American football. I’m actually running a contest right now to come up with the names of the fictional athletes who will be mentioned in this book. Feel free to submit your own ideas.
What do you love about NaNoWriMo? NaNoWriMo fuels my competitive spirit. I see people around the world focused on writing 50K words in one month, and it pushes me to think I can do it, too. Both my completed novels are more than 50,000 words, but having that much done on them in advance motivated me to keep writing until I reached the end. Also, by doing so much writing in one month, it allows me to focus on other projects throughout the year while still writing a book a year.
What's your advice to people wondering if they should do it? Give it a try. I’m a big advocate for NaNoWriMo, and I think it’s always worth attempting even if you don’t reach the 50,000-word goal. Look at it this way: even if you write 10,000 words in November, it’s still 10,000 words. Every writer has to start somewhere. Also, keep your eye on the prize, but don’t drive yourself crazy in the pursuit. Make sure to celebrate milestones, like having a piece of cheesecake because you reached 5,000 words, or getting a manicure, because you’re at 40,000. NaNoWriMo is a lot of work, but you can also make it a lot of fun. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be sharing more of my advice in the days leading up to Nov. 1.
Laura Chapman found a way to mix her love of romance and humor as a women’s fiction author and blogger. A 2008 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Laura studied journalism, English and history. She travelled across the United States as a writer/photographer before settling into a career in communications. She also maintains Change the Word, a blog devoted to promoting women’s fiction and documenting her experiences as a writer.
Born and raised in Nebraska – in a city, not on a farm – she is a devoted fan of football, British period drama, writing in bars and her cats, Jane and Bingley. Her debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, will be published with Marching Ink this winter. Her romantic holiday short “Twelve Drummers Drumming,” will appear in the Simon and Fig anthology Merry & Bright, which will be available Nov. 15.

More from Laura Chapman:

Monday 14 October 2013

#4 Pathetic Pitches - Breaking Bad Eggs


Fancy writing a ridiculous cover letter? It's ever so therapeutic. Please send your rubbish cover letter or pathetic book pitch to If it's funny I'll be sure to post it on my blog! (Word Limit: 500 words)

Read Last Weeks's Pathetic Pitch - The Action Packed Fiction Novel by Mark Grant 

Thursday 10 October 2013

A Scaredy Cat's Book Review: The Uninvited

Between me and you, I really don't like writing book reviews. I used to have to do them in school and it put me off reading. The fact I'm writing about The Uninvited should be proof enough of its brilliance.
Up until now I didn't think books had the same power as films for planting zombies in your bathroom and ghosts under your kitchen sink. Beetlejuice, The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Skeleton Key, Julia's Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia) - the few scary films I've dared watch really got under my skin.

Some of them, such as Beetlejuice, have since morphed into comedies, which is a fat lot of help to my younger self who once cowered in bed, too frightened to go to the toilet.
It's often the music in films that manipulate our emotions. I remember abruptly turning the sound off while watching this horror film with some green lady in a bath. Suddenly it was just a silly green lady in the bath, not scary at all. Well my copy of The Uninvited arrived without a sound track and achieved what I thought only films were capable of.
Here's the blurb:
A seven-year-old girl puts a nail-gun to her grandmother's neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong.
When anthropologist Hesketh Lock travels to Taiwan to investigate sabotage in the timber industry, he has no reason to connect the events there with the incidents back home. Or with the increasingly odd behaviour of his beloved step-son. That is, until shocking events in Taiwan and a global epidemic of child violence forces him to reassess his life, his career and his role as a father. Part psychological thriller, part dystopian nightmare, The Uninvited is a powerful and viscerally unsettling portrait of apocalypse in embryo.
It's a chilling read with a character at its centre that you love for being so direct. Okay so he's direct because he has Aspergers and you wouldn't like his directness if you'd just slept with him, but he makes for a trusty narrator. As for creepy children and unexplained madness, it gets me trembling under my blanket every time.
The Uninvited is expertly paced and you feel compelled to keep reading because you need the answers as much as super rational Hesketh. Whatsmore it doesn't fall apart at the end like so many other 'nearly thrilling' books do.
I read The Uninvited at night in a very empty house, wind whistling outside and neighbours oddly quiet. After putting it down I considered sleeping with the lights on, and when I turned them off feeling foolish, I fully expected something to grab my ankle.
Your experience might be less scary if you read it in daylight and with someone at your side. Preferably not a child acting strangely or an adult who believes in evil spirits.  
For proper book reviews, visit Isabel Costello's On The Literary Sofa. I actually won this book through a competition she was running on Twitter so it's worth following her @IsabelCostello
For more about author Liz Jensen, visit her website and find her on on Twitter @LizJensenWriter 

Monday 7 October 2013

#3 Pathetic Pitches - The Action-Packed Fiction Novel

This pathetic pitch was submitted by novelist and screenwriter, Michael Grant. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_R_Grant 

Fancy writing a ridiculous cover letter? It's ever so therapeutic. Please send your rubbish cover letter or pathetic book pitch to If it's funny I'll be sure to post it on my blog! (Word Limit: 500 words) 

Read Last week's Pathetic Pitch 'Dear Fluffles'... 

Thursday 3 October 2013

Turning 30... OR AM I?

Cassette pic by Appaloosa

I've said it so often I've bored myself: "How can I be turning 30? I still feel about 22!"

However recently there have been hints that the date on my birth certificate might be correct after all. I decided to compile some evidence to make a final decision.

Evidence for:

• I have friends that I've known for 26 years.

• Some of those friends have children.

One Direction looks like a group of silly little boys.

• I have thoughts like, 'What shall I do if I have a daughter and they become obsessed with a boy band like One Direction?'

• Last Saturday I watched  Best of 80s Disco music videos whilst playing scrabble. It was a great night. 

• While watching Best of 80s Disco I commented that the choreography in Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' looked exhausting.

• Jimmy Carr's Big Fat Quiz of the 90s made me feel nostalgic for mix tapes.

• Last week I made my first apple crumble and announced it was easy.

• Husband, not a Londoner, says if we have children they must go to a school with grass. We passed a school with grass and I asked him to google it.

• I wear slippers. I never used to wear slippers.

Evidence against:

• I still haven't learnt to drive.

Conclusion: After much debate I think it's clear the date on my Birth Certificate is incorrect. I can't possibly be turning 30 in two months if I can't drive.