Thursday, 25 March 2010

Flash 500 Competition - final week

Only one week left to enter the Flash 500 fiction competition. Entries of up to 500 words on any theme are welcome.

Entry fee: £5 for one story, £8 for two stories

Prizes will be awarded as follows:

First: £250 plus publication in Words with JAM
Second: £100
Third: £50
Highly commended: A copy of The Writers ABC Checklist

The three winning entries will be published on the competition website -- for more details: Flash 500 Competition

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Wild books and their progress

Twenty books have been 'released into the wild' at different places around the UK - hopefully to be picked up, read, and then sent on further adventures. Find out all about this experiment, and learn more about the website, which will allow us to track their progress, in the next edition of the writing e-zine Words with JAM, out 30th March.

Subscribe to Words with JAM for free at or by filling in the subscription form on this page.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Cross-genre writing insights

Today I’m fortunate enough to have a good writing friend as a guest blogger. Gillian Hamer offers some great insight into writing cross-genre fiction.

Whose Advice ?
When I started writing crime novels, I had it in mind I wanted to bring something new to the genre. Maybe not unique, but something that stood me apart from the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I love detective stories. I will always name Agatha Christie as my favourite all-time author, and stand in awe at the effortless way she winds a plot around numerous characters, so most times you never guess ‘whodunnit’ right up until the big reveal.

But I wanted to try and include another of my loves – paranormal – in my novels.

I decided my first book would include reincarnation, the next the paranormal element of second sight, and the third the ghost of a girl who died in a shipwreck.

I also decided as an added interest each novel would feature some real historical fact. Closure featured a long-forgotten shipwreck off the North Wales coast, The Dream Jar involved a survivor of the Lusitania, and The Charter involved a modern day gold hunt as a consequence of the sinking of the steamer, The Royal Charter.

Yes, perhaps I was being self-indulgent. But I am a big believer that rather than write what you know (which for me would be limited to dogs, cars and DIY!) but rather write what you love. If you have no passion, no drive, for a subject, I fail to see how you can write 100,000+ words that someone else would wish to read.

With each book completed, I grew in confidence. I submitted The Dream Jar to a few agents and got a lot of no letters, but one or two glimmers of encouragement.

With The Charter, I soon got numerous requests for fulls, and in April 2009 I signed a contract with my agent.

BUT this came with a massive proviso. The agent loved my writing. He loved the historical element. But he didn’t think the paranormal added anything to the book. He wanted me to rewrite it, removing all traces of the ghost, and rely on atmosphere to carry the modern day story.

I thought about it, but like so many would-be authors, it was something of a no-brainer. I knew how hard it was to get an agent, how lucky I was. I had to learn to let go of my work and trust my agent, after all he knew the business. His advice was that publishers weren’t keen on cross-genre books. Crime readers read detective stories. Paranormal fans read ghost stories.

At the time, I wanted to object. I love cross-genre. I love Susan Hill and Barbara Erskine (both authors who I am told are similar to my own style). But I agreed, rewrote the book and he submitted it to three publishers.

And guess what, two out of the three said they preferred the original. That the ghost fleshed out the story and they would look again at the book if the paranormal element was written back into the tale.

I began again and the book is now doing a second round of publishers.

The important question is, I think, – whose advice do we trust?

For me personally, I have a handful of writing colleagues whose opinion is spot on, whose editing skills I rely on. I have an agent who admits he got it wrong at first with my books, but thinks I am a talent and wants to promote my work. Of course, I will also listen to his opinion. And lastly, one day soon I hope, there will be an editor who will have their own ideas about my work, new suggestions to make it more marketable.

But ultimately, I think we should all remember that we’re in charge of our own destiny. We have to be comfortable with what we are and what we write. We have to be confident enough and proud enough to show the world what comes from inside us.

For my latest WIP, The Gold Detectives, I am sticking to my guns. A modern day murder hunt, linked to both paranormal element – a psychic investigation – and real historical details – the Roman invasion of Anglesey.

It’s what I love. And it’s what I want to write.

I found this quotation recently by another author, Neil Gaiman, and it is so very true …

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ¬honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

If you want to keep up with my roller coaster journey, see my website and blog

Good luck and most importantly – keep writing!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mistakes Writers Make

A writing tutor colleague of mine, Alex Gazzola, has started a blog called Mistakes Writers Make (and how to put them right), the idea behind which is to encourage new and student writers of non-fiction to view their mistakes as positives to learn from, rather than negatives to fret about. You can find it here at Mistakes Writers Make

The site includes market pages and lots of useful information for non-fiction writers. It’s a blog well worth following, so why not drop in and see what tips he has to offer?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Greg's 100 Stories for Haiti Blog Tour

I'm proud to have Greg McQueen guest post today. Greg saw a need for help after the disaster in Haiti, as did most of us, but he went one stage further and found a practical way to do so. His 100 Stories for Haiti Book Project idea is a wonderful example of how the internet can work for the good of others. Well done to Greg and everyone who contributed a story and/or worked behind the scenes.

Please support the 100 Stories for Haiti Book Project! Pre-order your copy NOW

Post from Greg
Ah, this is a suitable stop considering my post on Nick Daw's site yesterday. If you haven't picked up a copy of Lorraine and Maureen's book do so ... It is darn useful!

One thing I haven't done for a while is update people on Susan Partovi. She's a Family Physician from Los Angeles who visited Haiti over Christmas, working with four medical students in a rural clinic in Cazale, a small village not far from Port-au-Prince. Her account of her time in Cazale features in 100 Stories for Haiti, and you can read an extract on the project's website.

Susan recently returned to Haiti to help with aid efforts. She was kind enough to send us updates. What follows is her last update from a hospital in Port-au-Prince before jumping a military flight home.
Late Sunday night an orphanage director brought in a pair of 5 week-old twins. Their mother had died. The director didn't know of what. The father had said he couldn't take care of them. They had diarrhoea and were throwing up. They each weighed 3 pounds 7 ounces -- sooo tiny, not too sick looking, so very cute.

I gave them a small bolus each, fluids, medicines, and went to bed. Couldn't sleep though, up at 5:30am to get ready to go to the airport only to discover that they weren't letting anyone in until 5pm, unless you had a chartered flight. Apparently, the "humanitarian" flight I was supposed to be on was cancelled, so I would have to wait for a military flight that evening.

I decided to go back to the hospital. The same driver who had dropped me off picked me up, now loaded with a pastor and eight little girls in the back seats. Orphans. They wore frilly dresses and had braids in their hair. I held one of the girl's hands just because I could.

Arriving back at the hospital I checked on a patient, asthma guy. He was now willing to take breathing treatment and I found some oral medicines for him. When I examined him he said something was, "gwo," meaning "big," and pointed to his chest. His right breast and upper arm were enlarged, and he complained that his armpit was painful.

I consulted a surgeon. "There is an abscess there. He will need surgery." I translate, sort of, before returning to my clinic to see my sundry of hypertensives, my abscess-on-the-foot guy, gastritis patients, etc. Kisses and hugs to everyone before heading back to the airport where I meet a Haitiian woman, now an American citizen, who came down to try to get her non-citizen husband out of Haiti. She had waited 24 hours in line at the Embassy only to be sent away.

I also met an elderly woman who had come to Haiti on January 12th. Her son was taking her back to New York because following the earthquake she'd started suffering dementia. I met a woman and girl from North Carolina who had been coming to Haiti for years through their church. I met a sailor from Miami who just felt he had to do something so he sailed to Haiti with a boat full of supplies and ended up saving some art from a destroyed museum.

We ate dinner together. Ready meals from the military. We slept the night on chairs and were finally airlifted the next day at 6:30am.

Thanks for letting me post, Lorraine and Maureen. And, for those unaware, Lorraine was one of the volunteer editors on the book. In fact, when I asked for her help, she said, “Yes. I am busy though. Pressed with a deadline.” She ended up becoming one of the core editors on the project! I sincerely hope you didn’t blow that deadline, Lo.

Maureen’s story, Betsy Fudge and the Big Silence, features in the book. You can read an extract from her story on a previous stop on this tour. Maureen also helped proof the finished manuscript before it went to the printers.

It’s hard to find the right words to express my gratitude. Thank you just doesn’t seem enough ...

100 Stories for Haiti comes out later this week as an ebook and paperback. You can pre-order your paperback HERE

Greg McQueen