Friday, 26 September 2008

My favourite deadly sin

In addition to hanging around Litopia, soaking up the collective wisdom and shooting the breeze with writerly types in the cafes, I also have the rather cool job of being the site’s news officer.

It’s pretty straightforward – when one of the members has some big news, they tell me and I knock together a story for the home page. It might be someone who’s been signed up by an agent or a colonist with a new book about to hit the shelves.

The aim of the stories is twofold. First up, they show new visitors to the site that it is the place to be – a resource for writers where the members are making breakthroughs, and on a reasonably regular basis. Second, the stories act as an inspiration to those colonists who are still working towards a breakthrough.

As the harbinger of such news, I have mixed feelings when drafting these stories – I’m caught between sincere, genuine pleasure for the person involved… and sincere, genuine envy (I know, I’m going to face an eternity of damnation, but it’s all purely professional, of course).

It’s probably not the done thing to admit to envy, but if I didn’t feel at least a smidgen of the sixth deadly sin, I’d think there was something wrong with me. Envy is good – it drives me on, makes me even more determined. Each Litopia news story I write inspires me to do the same. That sound like clich├ęd bullshit? Yes, I guess it does.

But I tell you, there’s nothing quite as motivating (other than my credit card bill landing on the mat) than telling everyone about the success being enjoyed by another writer.
It’s good, it’s healthy. It’s also an opportunity to look at how they have achieved what they have and to draw from their experiences.

So, to all Litopians, both current and future members, keep at it. And to those who make the breakthrough, keep the stories coming. I need to keep my envy levels up.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A short tale of mutant madness

I have a small problem.

To be more precise, I have a short problem.

Thanks to a lovely little virus – entovirus, according to the doc, and no, I shouldn’t have googled it – work on The Manx Giant ground to a halt until a couple of days ago, when I managed to move out of first gear for the first time in more than a week.

If there is one thing that time spent not writing is good for, it’s thinking of ideas for future projects, even when you know you shouldn’t because your current list is so long that you can’t remember them all without a wall chart and a secretary.

So I got to thinking, about short stories in the main, as they are not something I’ve ever really focused on. And I’ve been having weird little fantasies recently, about entering a short story competition and, you know, winning.

Then, as if guided by the hand of the good lady fate, the postman only goes and delivers through my door the October edition of Writers’ News and Writing Magazine, complete with a free supplement – an extensive guide to writing competitions for the coming twelve months. It’s a sign, I’m telling you.

So the ideas monkey goes into overdrive. And this is where my short problem comes in. It is no coincidence that my ideas list is dominated by plans for novels. I could scratch together a couple of short story proposals if I delved deep enough, but it would be a push.

I don’t know if this is a dilemma experienced by other writers. Maybe their ideas arrive pre-packed and perfectly formed, easily separated into files marked ‘novel’ and ‘short story’.

But the staff in my arrivals hall are somewhat confused. An idea for a novel will form, develop and arrive as it should. Yet the moment an idea for a short story rears its head, it’s set upon, dissected, operated on, all manner of weird appendages added to it, until by the time it staggers through the gates and is ready to be filed, it’s no longer a short story idea – it has been mutated beyond recognition and into a synopsis for a full-length novel.

This happens all the time. In one way it’s fantastic – should I ever make a breakthrough in fiction, I doubt I’ll ever run out of novel ideas. But it’s a pain the backside when you’re hoping to conjure up a few gems in a bid to tackle the short story market.

Unearthing the rough idea is no problem. But shaping it into something manageable that can be resolved within a few thousand words, well, it’s a skill I’ve yet to develop. Before I know it, I’m adding characters, developing ‘what if’ scenarios to the plot and then it's a case of abandon hope all ye who enter.

All suggestions for curing this ailment would be most welcome and will, of course, be rewarded with several virtual beers.

For stimulation this week, John is reading:

The Dirty Secrets Club, Meg Gardiner