Writing: In the beginning!

For the Love of Writing

From years of writing experience I have discovered that one aspect that should never be undervalued is how the process of writing will affect your health. So before we actually discuss what is going to be written or how in future blog posts – be it a short story, novella, or novel – you need to think a bit about the practicalities.
Writing even a few thousand words requires sitting down for hours and this does, or can, impact on your health mainly because of bad posture. I am not medically qualified to give specific advice but I find considering the following helps.

  • Investing in a good chair that can be adjusted for height and back support. I have written whilst perched on a chair in a shed, the kitchen, or whilst travelling. This is fine for short bursts.
  • Try not to cross your legs. I am terrible at taking this advice as the more absorbed I am in what I am doing my legs will automatically gravitate under my chair. However, it is better not to do this.
  • Take breaks. When a plot is working well and you are in there with your protagonist, time can slip away. RSI is no joke, your body is not a machine, shoulders get hunched and tense. So change posture. Stand, walk, literally take a break and do a completely different set of activities that are the opposite of the static writing activity.
  • Give your eyes a break from the screen too.
    Feed the brain and body. I have lost track of how many hot drinks I have made only for them to be left half full (or half empty! ) and cold, because I was too involved in what I was doing.
  • You want to enjoy the whole process preferably when you’re sitting comfortably.

What tips work for you?

 

 

An Interview with Ian Skillicorn

Ian SkillicornWhat better way to usher in the New Year than to share an inspiring interview with Ian Skillicorn who is a very talented and successful writer, publisher, speaker, director, voiceover artist, translator and producer.

Welcome to my blog, Ian! I hope I have not omitted any of the many hats that you wear within your fascinating career.

Thanks for having me! Well, those are all of the various hats I’ve worn over a twenty-five year career to date, but fortunately I haven’t had to wear all of them at the same time!

You obviously have a natural love of language: written and audio, both in English and translation. When and where did this love of words and story-telling begin?

From a very early age. My parents are (and grandparents were) great readers, and so there were always lots of books around the place. The weekly visit to the library was really important in introducing me to a variety of authors, and firing my imagination. At weekends my parents took us to museums, art galleries and historic sites around the country, which gave me a lasting appreciation of art and history, and all sorts of stories about people through the ages. I also had a couple of very supportive English teachers at secondary school who encouraged my own writing efforts. I recently discovered that one of them is a friend of one of my authors, and we have since been in touch, which was lovely.

Did your early career, working for a national magazine in Milan, give you the exposure to the industry that you needed to realise your own literary ambitions and projects?

Not directly, to be honest. I came back from Italy with six years’ solid work experience but at that time, in the 1990s, I think people were expected to follow a much more rigid career path than they are nowadays. I had never worked in the UK, and although I wanted to get into publishing, I found I was over-qualified for some jobs, but didn’t have the relevant experience in this country for others. I ended up taking what was for me the obvious easy route – becoming a freelance translator. It was something I had enjoyed doing in Italy, but literary translation work in the UK was hard to come by, so I went into translating for businesses. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I suppose I was lucky I had it to fall back on. The upside was that being freelance meant I had the flexibility to work on developing my own projects as well. It took many years of working seven days a week, doing lots of projects for free, financing some myself, and numerous false starts before I was finally able to give up the day job. Now I do work in publishing again, with my own imprint, and in the end I was the one who gave me a job!

That has to be one of the main benefits of being self-employed.

Hardacre by CL SkeltonIn 2006 you founded www.shortstoryradio.com. How passionate are you about broadening the market for short story writers?

Very. Short Story Radio was one of those projects I developed in my own time, and initially at my own expense. I often read comments online and in print from creative people who say they refuse ever to work for free, but I don’t completely subscribe to that view. Even if you are passionate about your craft and believe in yourself, in the early days of your career sometimes the only way to get noticed is by creating your own opportunities. Through working on Short Story Radio I learned that there was an appetite for short stories in English not only in this country, but around the world. I met many talented writers and actors, some of whom are now good friends, and realised how difficult it was for short story writers to find paying outlets for their work. After a while I applied for a grant from Arts Council England. My application was successful and that support from ACE financed work for a lot of writers, actors and technicians, and raised the profile of Short Story Radio and its content. It was also a very important morale boost for me, and the start of building up an audio production business which led to many interesting commissions over a number of years. For most of the Short Story Radio writers it was their first experience of being broadcast, and a number have gone on to have successful writing careers.

Do you see a growing trend for shorter fiction evolving both through audio (The Story Player) and eBooks?

I do. However, I think enthusiasm for the short story among readers hasn’t yet caught up with the form’s popularity among writers. It’s often said that the short story is perfect for today’s busy, time-poor lives, but hearing that always makes me cringe. Good writing should be savoured no matter what the length, not because it is “convenient”. I don’t like the idea of a short story being considered the literary equivalent of “wash and go”. That said, I’m sure that new technologies will present all sorts of opportunities for creating, selling and experiencing short stories. We’re only just at the beginning.

Do You Take This Man by Sophie King coverYour connection with short fiction was further strengthened when you founded National Short Story Week in 2010, which has best-selling author Katie Fforde as its patron. What would you say is the essence of a good short story?

That’s a tough question! I suppose it depends on the opinion of the individual reader and their tastes. Personally, I enjoy stories which manage to say something about the human condition, and which I can relate to even if my life is nothing like those of the protagonists. I think that’s why the stories of authors such as Saki and Katherine Mansfield, mostly written more than 100 years ago, are still fresh and relevant today. Their themes are timeless and universal.

If I could just say something about National Short Story Week. One of the best outcomes, which wasn’t actually an original aim, has been the enthusiasm and involvement of schools and their pupils, librarians and teachers. The National Short Story Week Young Writer competition, for year 7 and 8 pupils, is now in its fourth year and going from strength to strength. I can highly recommend the anthology of last year’s winning stories – The Mistake. It reached Number 51 on Amazon’s book charts last November, and has raised funds for Teenage Cancer Trust. The children’s creativity, imagination and use of language are very impressive. If we are serious about championing the short story form, surely the best way to do this is to get people interested in writing and reading short stories from an early age.

The Property of a Gentleman cover artworkThat is excellent and inspiring for the future.

In 2012 you created your own publishing imprint Corazon Books (I love the tag line: Great stories with heart!). It was launched with a novel by bestselling author Sophie King. However, you have just published an out of print title The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin who died in 2009. What inspired you about Catherine’s work and do you intend to publish more of her titles?

I was very lucky to launch my business with a title by Sophie King, who is a great writer (and whose work inspired the Corazon tag line!) and a lovely person. I have been familiar with Catherine Gaskin’s work since I was young, when my mother and grandmothers were reading her novels. Although I knew and loved the books, I didn’t know much about the author before I published The Property of a Gentleman. I have since done some research on her life, and was fascinated to discover she wrote her first book, which became a bestseller, while still at school! I have received many nice comments from readers since Corazon Books started reissuing her novels, and it has been very gratifying to see The Property of a Gentleman back in the bestsellers charts both in the UK and Australia. Corazon Books has also recently published Sara Dane, which is probably Catherine Gaskin’s best known work. The Lynmara Legacy is out in February 2015, and will be followed by Promises in the spring.

I heard you speak at three events last year: Society of Author’s day event in Bristol, R.N.A. conference and at the H.N.S workshop. You inspire, entertain and inform people especially about eBooks. How do you view the major changes happening within this very new industry today impacting upon what for decades has been a very set publishing industry in the future?

Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say so. I really enjoy talking at conferences and giving workshops. When so much of the average working day can be spent in front of a pc screen, it’s a good opportunity to get out there and meet like-minded people, and to share ideas and experiences. Obviously we are living through a period of huge technological change, in many aspects of our lives. The publishing industry is clearly going through a major transformation and as such there will be winners and losers. I think it’s too early to say who will be the winners and who the losers. You have to be able and willing to reappraise and adapt quickly.

What is next for Ian?

I’m very excited about the books lined up for publication by Corazon Books this year, which include a number of novels by new talents and other projects I can’t talk about just yet. Plans for National Short Story Week 2015 and the Young Writer competition are already under way. I’m looking forward to doing more ebook workshops for the Society of Authors in March, and at Sheffield Hallam University in April. I also have a long list of ideas I want to pursue, which are currently at different stages of development!

Thank you for taking the time to share your work and experience with us and every best wish for your continued success with all your projects in 2015.

Thank you very much for having me on your blog Valerie, I’ve enjoyed it. Best wishes to you, and for your writing, and to all of your readers too.

More From Ian:

An Interview with Janet Gover

Janet Gover

My guest author this month is an experienced novelist, TV journalist, and short story writer, as well as an award-winning Australian author, Janet Gover. She has graciously taken time out of her busy, globe-trotting schedule to answer some of my questions and share her vast experience with us.
 
Welcome, Janet!

How did your childhood fuel your love of books, travel and adventure?

Hi Val – thanks for having me here on your blog.

I grew up in a tiny bush town in Queensland. There were only 18 buildings in Bowenville back then – I know this because I counted them. There was no-one else my age in the town, and my school was many miles away. I took a bus there each day – which meant I didn’t get to hang out with the other kids after school. Our nearest ‘big’ town was Toowoomba. It had movies and shops and things – but it was quite a drive to get there and we didn’t go often. I guess would have been lonely without my ponies and my books.

My Dad was a great reader and he taught me to love books as he did. It was such a great escape. I rode to the stars with Ray Bradbury, solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes and fell in love with many a knight in shining armour.

Books were full of people and places that were such a long way from my tiny bush town. They fired my imagination. And the really great thing is – I have managed to visit some of those places I read about – although I have yet to go into space…

On January 10 2011 floods hit Brisbane and Toowoomba. Has Toowoomba changed greatly from the place you grew up in as a result of the devastation caused?

I was in Miami, Florida, working, when those floods hit. I woke up in the morning and turned on the TV news – and was shocked by the pictures I saw. It was so hard to understand how Toowoomba, a town on the top of a mountain could have a flood. I lived and worked in Brisbane as a young journalist, and that day in Miami I saw pictures of one of my favourite restaurants being washed away.

Floods are not uncommon in Australia – and people fight back. If you went there now, you wouldn’t know what had happened.

One of the things I am very proud of is my involvement with a book called 100 Stories For Queensland. I donated a short story to this project – as did many other writers. All the proceeds from sale of the book went to help flood victims. I was pleased to be able to help, even in such a small way.

You have written stories from an early age, but when did you make that initial breakthrough into print as a fiction writer?

I was a journalist for many years – working mostly in TV. I thought it would be easy to switch from writing fact to writing fiction – but I was very wrong. It was really hard.

I tried my hand at a novel when I was still working as a journalist – and it was really bad. Seriously bad! Some years later, I moved from being a journalist to a more managerial role – where I wasn’t writing daily news stories any more. Something inside me needs to write – and that’s when I seriously started to write fiction.  It took a while to change my style. My first efforts were rejected.

A holiday in Wales changed everything for me. I was very inspired by the places we visited – the fabulous scenery, the people and their history… the dragons.  I wrote a short story called The Last Dragon. It was my first published fiction (and I still love it).

I wrote short stories for a year or two – and each taught me something else about the art of writing. And every one that was published gave me a bit more confidence. My first novel, The Farmer Needs A Wife was published in 2009, and owes a lot to those short stories.

Janet, you travel widely with your work. Do you develop plots/characters for your novels as you journey, being inspired by new experiences?

I love people watching. Everywhere I go, I look and listen and learn. People are endlessly fascinating.

One thing I have learned in my travels is that whatever the cultural differences, deep down people all over the world want the same thing – they want to find someone to share their lives with. They want a home and a family. They want to give their children a good start in life. That’s why I write the sort of books I do.

I feel most comfortable writing about places I have been – I do like to properly capture the essence of a place. As I travel more, some of that is sneaking into my work. A boat cruise around the tip of Norway in mid-winter helped me to write Bring Me Sunshine. A trip to Iraq was the key to writing a troubled ex-serviceman as a hero. Living in New York has given me a heroine – we won’t meet her for two more books, but she is waiting there for me.

What places, of the many you have visited really stand out as memorable and why?

Wow – that’s a hard one. Very place has its own magic. Even though I write contemporary novels, I am a big history buff. I have visited the ruins of Carthage, of old Constantinople and Pompeii. I walked the Great Wall of China – I had a terrible cold at the time and pretty much collapsed at the end of the day, but loved it all the same. I love the ancient feel of places like this – and wonder a lot about the people who lived there.

The other thing I love is wild places – the central Australian desert, the Everglades. A frozen lake in Norway. The Rocky Mountains. Nature is beautiful and powerful…

And, I have to say – my favourite city in the world is London. I just love walking across Waterloo Bridge as the sun sets over the Thames. Beautiful!

What top tip would you give to new writers?

Be passionate about what you write. If you don’t love your story and your characters … no-one else is going to.

And respect your reader – never give them anything but the very best book you can write.

Flight to Coorah Creek, the first in a series based in the Australian outback is out in paperback this month. Could you tell us about this exiting new series?

Flight To Coorah Creek

I am loving writing about Coorah Creek. It’s a fictional town – in the far west of Queensland. Very close to the desert. In this series, I am trying to capture the feel of the small outback towns I have known all my life. These towns are a long way from the sort of amenities we are all used to. There are no shopping centres, or cinemas. Not much in the way of hospitals or schools either. Often, they hover on the brink of collapse. Coorah Creek is a mining town – if the mine was to close, the town would die.

People who live in these towns become very close to each other. They form very tight knit communities. The books are all romances – with new hero and heroine in each one. But the town and the people of the town appear in each book. It’s a chance to see the life the characters live when they move off the centre stage.

I hope to the readers, each new book will feel a little like coming home to a place you know well and to people you love.

By contrast Bring Me Sunshine was set in a much cooler environment. This was quite a change. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Bring Me Sunshine - small

Bring Me Sunshine is set in as wild a place as I could image – Antarctica. Well, on a cruise to Antarctica. The book was inspired by my sister-in-law – who went there with her mother… who at the time was well into her sixties. What a journey for a woman of her age!

I couldn’t afford to go there myself, but my sister-in-law helped with the research. I did take a cruise to the Arctic by way of research – which was a lot of fun.

I didn’t realise until after I had finished it – but this is the first (and so far only) book I have written that doesn’t have horses in it. There are, however, several million penguins – and who doesn’t like penguins?

It’s also the first (and so far only) book I have written with a wedding in it – which is a bit strange for a romance writer.

What is next for Janet?

I am almost finished writing the second Coorah Creek book – it has a lot of horses in it. And a fabulous hero who was inspired by a trip to Iraq.

There is a third Coorah Creek novel in the back of my head – a New York girl is just desperate to go and visit the town. But she’ll have to wait until I finish book two.

I am also planning another lighter novel – set on an archaeological dig…

And then there is this tropical island – where three sisters organise dream weddings…

And the story about the circus… (which will probably have horses in it too).

I’m not sure what order I’ll be writing these books in – one this is certain though – I am not about to run out of ideas…

More from Janet

An interview with Linda Mitchelmore

LINDA WRITING ROOMI am delighted to welcome prolific short story writer and successful Choc Lit author, Linda Mitchelmore.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be an author?  
I did things rather back to front. I didn’t consciously start out to be a writer. One Christmas – back in the day – there was a short story writing competition in Woman’s Own. On Christmas Day evening, my family were all glued to the TV – something I don’t get a huge lot of pleasure from as I am deaf. So I thought I’d have a go at the short story competition for something to do. To my utter amazement my short story was short-listed  and published. And I was paid for it. The old cash registers behind my eyes started to ring and I thought, hey, I could make money from all the ‘stuff’ that goes around in my mind…

Your stories have sold internationally. How many have you had published to date? 
I’ve lost count of the exact number of short stories I’ve had published but it is definitely 300+ now. I’ve also had a story broadcast on radio – the irony of that not lost on me.

Writing short stories and longer fiction involve two very different disciplines. What attracted you to short fiction initially, and how much of a challenge was it making the switch to longer fiction? 
Short fiction is just that – short. 750 word stories are quite popular with some magazine editors. I tend to write 1000 word or 2000 word stories as they’re the lengths that tend to fit into most magazine slots. When working on a short story I don’t have to think too much about viewpoints – I only ever write one character’s viewpoint into a short story. I don’t have to have sub-plots, and foreshadowing is something that – depending on the story – doesn’t raise its head much. So they are much quicker to write. When I first started writing I had two teenage children at home, a husband (still got him!) and a part-time job as well as ageing parents and parents-in-law to be doing things for. Short story writing was easier to fit in around all that. Writing longer fiction – 80,000 words or so – seemed a natural progression for me once I had more time to write it. The same premise of ‘person, problem and plot’, with a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, is the same for short stories and novels. The only difference is the time it takes to tell the story.

Your novel, the first of a trilogy, ‘To Turn Full Circle’ is set in your beautiful home county of Devon. Please tell us something about the inspiration behind it? 
The seeds of To Turn Full Circle were sown when I was helping my husband research some family history. We discovered that his great uncle, George, had fished out of Brixham. George had had two trawlers. One of them was lost to the sea in a storm (although with no loss of life) and George had a bad accident on board the other one which meant he had to come off the sea and lost his livelihood. He had to move his wife and daughter back in with his mother. I had a ‘What If’ moment! What if it wasn’t a man who had lost his home because of circumstances, but a young girl? And ‘What If’ the sea still controlled her struggle to survive? And so, To Turn Full Circle was born.
When you begin a new project does your initial idea start with a character, situation, place or theme or does it vary? 
For me a story always starts with an emotion or a feeling – something deep inside my main character. In To Turn Full Circle’s story it was Emma’s determination to survive which drives the story.

You have two more novels to write to complete this trilogy. What do you see as the next challenge for Linda Mitchelmore? 
Writing the next two books is keeping me busy at the moment. I do, however, have a contemporary novel under consideration – the heroine is older than Emma. The feeling driving this story – tentatively called Red is for Rubies – is regret. Most of us have them and in Red is for Rubies, my hero and heroine have lived – apart – with their own regrets for a long time. Will they get a chance to redeem themselves?

Also, I have now signed a contract with Choc Lit for a novella – Hope For Hannah. It will be an e-book initially and out in the close future.

My thanks for a very insightful interview, Linda.

More by Linda:

CHOC LIT LOVE MATCH Layout 1