Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Using song lyrics in writing

Stacey from Edinburgh sent in the follow question: In my debut novel I have quoted some song lyrics, just a few lines, but some of my friends who have read the book say I should delete the words because I’m breaking the copyright law. I don’t see how I’m doing anything wrong because I’m not playing the music, just using some lines to illustrate a point, but are my friends right? Am I breaking any law?

The easy answer to this question simply doesn’t exist. There is such a thing as ‘fair use’ which entitles you to use a few lines without transgressing copyright. However, there is no hard and fast rule over what constitutes ‘fair use’ of song lyrics and you could find yourself in a deep financial hole if you use someone’s lyrics without first gaining permission to do so.

You would need to contact the copyright holder (or their agent) and ask for permission to use the lyrics. You’ll be charged (usually quite a hefty fee) and will need to include certain information in your book covering details regarding the copyright.

If the song is deemed to be ‘in the public domain’ then the situation changes:

Buying permission to use song lyrics is never cheap, but using them and being taken to court afterwards will be even more costly, so it’s best to avoid including them unless they are absolutely essential to your novel.

The following links are all worth reading as they could save you a great deal of money.

One other thing to bear in mind is that song titles are not subject to copyright and can be used freely, unless they have been protected by trademark or other registration.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Getting to know ... Tom Gillespie

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
I hate the whole genre classification thing. Genres are some silly sort of nothing cooked up by the publishing industry to flog more books. I don't think creativity should be confined and contained and squeezed into a tight little box for the convenience of the market. I don't choose a book because it's a thriller or a chick lit or historical drama. I read it because I'm interested in the story, the characters and the fabulous and creative use of language.

I would hope that my novel Painting by Numbers defies genre categorisation, that was my intention anyway. The marketeers would probably try and cram it into the psychological thriller drawer, or perhaps they might say it's literary fiction. But for me, PBN is a human drama, a love story, a surreal road movie and a dark comic tragedy. I may have borrowed a number of conventions from different types of so-called genres, but my aim was to create a sense of the unexpected and disorientation. So Painting by Numbers is a genre buster.

What made you choose that genre?
Ha ha…

How long does it take you to write a book?
Painting by Numbers took me about five years to complete and then it took another 18 months to find a publisher. In my parallel existence, I'm a full-time English lecturer, husband father and cat owner so I had to fit my writing around the glorious mess of life, or vice versa.

It also took so long partly because I had to do  quite a bit of research into the history of Baroque and Spanish art, and the life of the great Spanish master Diego Velazquez. I also enlisted the help of a maths lecturer at the university to help me pick my way through the weird science and come up with a believable but bonkers mathematical theory. I'm also an editing geek, and I would be happy to spend eternity drafting, editing and re-editing my work. I always need people (usually my wife) to tell me when it's time to stop and confiscate all writing instruments.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I write where and when I can, but when I'm in the thick of it, I love to follow a tight schedule. I find that this helps me stay focused on the task. I'll start early, around 5.30am, then work through to around 8. I'll go to work, and then perhaps squeeze a little in over lunch if I can. Then in the evening, I like to wait until everyone has gone to bed so I can let my characters run around the house without them bumping into anyone, except me of course.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Ideas can come from absolutely anywhere, from tiny moments to huge emotional events. I like to keep my eyes and ears open and if I spot something that's interesting, I'll scribble it down on a wee notepad, or mumble into the voice recorder on my phone.

Painting by Numbers started life as a one page short story prompted by something I observed on a visit to El Prado Museum in Madrid. I suppose, we notice things when we want to notice them, and there is probably some deep psychological or Jungian reason why we go with one thing over another. But I am drawn to the stranger side of human behaviour, so I guess I tend to pick up on ideas, build plot lines and invent characters from that start point.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Painting by Numbers is my first novel and I am now closer to pushing up the daisies than when I first started it.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
That would be telling.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I discovered that I had quite a lot of stamina and determination to carry on and complete the project. I was also surprised by my fondness for structure and editing. I always had myself down as a freewheeling beatnik kind of guy, but I soon realised that I am a great deal more Presbyterian than I thought. And I discovered (through blood sweat and hard toil), a little bit more about how a novel ticks, but I've still a lot to learn and that's what makes the creative writing process so exciting, there's always that constant aspiration to achieve something better.

How many books have you written?
Painting by Numbers is my first novel, but I am a compulsive short story writer. My work is published and scattered here there and everywhere, in magazines, short story websites and anthologies including East of the Web, The Story Collective and the best-selling charity anthology, Fear, published by Crooked Cat. I'm also a regular contributor to (though I have been neglecting that wonderful group recently).

Which is your favourite and why?
Painting by Numbers is my first book and you know what they say about the first born. The book took an awful long time to complete and a huge effort to get it finished and then to print. But hopefully it won't be an only child for much longer.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be James Herriot, the book Vet not the TV one. I loved the novels as a kid, and as I grew up on a farm, I could relate to a lot of the characters and story lines. But when I saw my dad one day with his arm up to his shoulder blade in a cow's nether regions, I soon changed my mind.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on novel Two. It is about a once successful, but now down-and-out writer who is left in a will an expensive house by one of his former fans. Sounds too good to be true...?? well.. you'll just have to wait and find out what happens next...

Painting by Numbers is in the final of the People's Book Prize. Voting is open for the public from today until the 29th May: The People's Book Prize

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Amazon author page


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Monday, 20 May 2013

A Dash of Advice

Sharon from East Lothian sent in a punctuation question: I have noticed that the long dash is being used more and more instead of a colon or semi-colon. Can you advise if this is good practice and if so, when exactly should it be used?

Although my answer is going to be based on grammatically accepted rules, I feel rules are there to be broken (as long as you know what they are before doing so). So, from my point of view as a writer, if it looks right in context and feels right, I believe in going with gut instinct. However, as I said, in order to break rules for effect, you first have to understand them.

If the first part of the sentence is complete (an independent clause) and is followed by a list, quotation, explanation or text to illustrate what has gone before, then a colon should be used to indicate to the reader that a list of some kind follows.

Margaret hated so many things about John: his arrogance, his cruelty and his inability to listen to anyone else’s point of view.
I have such a lot to get through today: doctor’s appointment, shopping and getting the car serviced.

A long dash, on the other hand, doesn’t need a complete sentence to precede it and is used to show a summing up, extension, or even a reversal of what has gone before.

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who – these are all great groups from the sixties.
Whenever James frowned she spoke without thinking – making her look stupid.
She’d always thought of herself as bright – until James undermined her confidence.

A semicolon is used to connect two complete clauses into one sentence. Probably the most famous example would be from Dickens. Each of the two clauses below could be written as a complete sentence.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Novel Opening Chapter and Synopsis Competition

Have you started, or completed, a novel with strong, credible characters and a page turning plot? Have you polished the first chapter? Can you put together a compelling one page synopsis of the balance of the story? Yes? Then why not enter the Flash 500 Novel Opening Chapter competition and have your work judged by the senior editors at Crooked Cat Publishing?

We are looking for an opening chapter up to 3,000 words, plus a one page synopsis outlining the balance of the story. If your chapter is longer than 3,000 words, DO NOT SUBMIT A LONGER MANUSCRIPT. Simply close the entry within the 3,000 word limit and make a note at the end (which will not be included in the word count) stating the chapter continues beyond this point.

This is an annual competition; entries open on 1st May and close on 31st October. 

Entry fee: £10
Optional Critique of Chapter and Synopsis: £25
Prizes will be awarded as follows:
First: £500
Runner up: £200
Payment options and entry instructions can be found on the

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Thursday, 2 May 2013

Writers Abroad Anthology call for submissions

Writers Abroad Anthology call for submissions

Closing date: 31 July 2013.

Entrants: Only for expat and former expat writers.

Fiction: 1700 words max.
Non-fiction: 1000 words max.
Flash Fiction: 500 words max.
Poems: 30 lines max.

Theme: Foreign places.

Free to enter, all profits from the anthology will be donated to the charity Book Aid International, and a Foreword will be written by novelist, Amanda Hodgkinson.

Full submission guidelines:

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition