Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Rediscovering my missing urge

A few days left in the month, and it's been a mixed one for writing. I signed up for the National Novel Editing Month in March, in attempt to rediscover my mojo for the near-completed young adult manuscript that is Quackenbush.

NaNoEdMo tells you that you need to rack up 50 hours in the editing hot seat in order to get your Noddy badge, a sense of satisfaction and a warm glow inside. I knew from day one that it was a no-hoper; an average of 90-120 minutes a day? Forget it.

But I went with it anyway, knowing that whatever hours I clocked up would at least be hours working on the project, which is what I'd been missing for far too long. As it is, I've registered twelve hours so far, and should hit twenty by the time March 31 knocks on the door.

An honourable failure? Hell, I wouldn't even go that far. In terms of hours, I won't even make the halfway mark. However, the experience has more than proved its weight in gold, because I've fallen in love again with the book.

It happened last Saturday, when a gang of us from Skeealleydern writers' group descended on a library for a day's workshop. Six hours solid, and I've got the bug back, the itch to sit down and edit/rewrite, because I can see where I'm going. And believe me, I was beginning to wonder whether that would happen again for this particular project.

The plan is to crack on with QB, but there's also the consideration that a lot of my time will be taken up during the next few months (on the other side of our front room table) with Nemesis Publishing, which is entering a major phase in its development.

It's vital that I press on with Nemesis, but I certainly don't want to have my urge for QB go missing in action again, not after we've just declared undying love for each other. Again.
We seem to have broken up and reconciled more times than Ken and Deidre. Of course, I'm sure that this time it's forever...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

I heard it on my radio...

I was all set to post tonight about how Muse, the new Litopia e-zine, is with the designer and maybe talk about the process involved in pulling the first issue together.

Then I logged into Litopia for a quick browse to see what was occurring, and discovered all hell had broken loose. The reason? Let's come to that in a moment...

I first stumbled across Litopia in January 2008 while researching literary agents and their submission guidelines. On Redhammer's site, run by London-based Peter Cox, it suggested I try this writer's colony, through which Peter would - after I'd shown a bit of dedication - accept submissions. I logged in, and discovered Litopia.

I've spoken of the merits of Litopia several times here in the past, but I don't think I've ever explained just what makes it so bloody good. There are two levels of membership - those who sign up begin as grade members, who have access to several forums, including Cafe Grande, where everything and anything about writing is discussed. After a period of time, you submit a piece of writing for full member status, and if it's up to scratch, you're upgraded to full member... and suddenly the whole colony opens up to you.

Another cafe for full members to shoot the breeze; Ask the Agent forum; Ask the Editor forum; monthly competitions; critique 'houses', separated into genre (the major benefit for writers); and, last but not least, the Pitch Room, where you submit your work direct to Peter (after having taken it through the relevant 'house'. And in return, Peter gives you a 25-minute or so video of feedback. Direct from an agent's mouth. Seriously, this is invaluable stuff for an unpublished writer. Gold dust, in fact.

I joined at a fortuitous moment; the Colony was going through an overhaul, I put my name forward to get involved behind the scenes and was asked to be one of the moderators looking after membership submissions. Next thing I knew, I was an occasional panelist on Litopia After Dark podcast, and writing the home page news stories for the Colony, based largely on members' achievements.

I've continued to stay involved behind the scenes, and it's fair to say that I wish I'd stumbled upon Litopia fifteen years ago, when I was a wet-behind-the-ears halfwit who thought he knew about books and publishing. As it turned out, I still knew next to nothing two years ago. That's no longer the case, and that is all down to Litopia.

It's not just the masses of advice and information that is available; it's the camaraderie between members, the understanding that, while you might be banging away at your keyboard hammering out your manuscript in the dead of night with not a soul around... you are not alone.
You're surrounded by writers, and publishers, and editors, and agents, and agents' readers, and successful, published authors. I really can't recommend it enough, but with one proviso - only join if you're serious about your writing. It's not a playground, even though there is plenty of fun to be had.

So, where am I going with this?

Today, Peter officially announced Radio Litopia. Using Peter's own words: 'Radio Litopia is a radio station devoted to writing, reading and everything inbetween, a logical extension of the highly successful podcasts we've been producing for the last two years. Our station, like thousands of others, is an online radio station. We broadcast over the internet rather than air waves. All our shows will be available as podcasts, too - making the audience even bigger.'

Potentially, this is huge. An entire radio station devoted to the written word? Any writer's number one fantasy, and yes, that's including what you think I'm thinking about.

As has been routinely discussed on the Daily and After Dark podcasts, publishing is undergoing something of a radical transformation, and Peter is positioning Litopia at the forefront of this changing climate, and Radio Litopia is just the next step.

There are two other factors which make Radio Litopia such a mouthwatering proposition. First, it's the fact that Peter has opened the entire programming up to members of Litopia to become involved with, be it as programme producers, panelists, reviewers, interviewers, technical support - or all of these. In the few hours since the announcement was made, the response in the 'Backstage' forum has been incredible.

The second factor, which goes for Litopia as a whole and not just what is happening with the radio station, is Peter's damn infectious enthusiasm. This man is seriously crazy about writing, authors, publishing - in fact, anything to do with books. Some might say he's just plain crazy. Yet it's an enthusiasm which is very difficult to escape, and certainly brushes off on my involvement, and I know I'm not alone in that.

So, Radio Litopia. It's here, it's groovy, and it will kick ass. Queen might even sing a song about it.
For now, you can download the existing podcast shows as normal. But over the course of the coming weeks, you'll start to see a heavier programming schedule appear. Make sure you check it out; if you're serious about writing, you'd be a fool not to.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Harry Carpenter - legend

Harry Carpenter. Damn, sometimes you don't realise how much you think of a 'celebrity' until they've departed this world.

Old 'Arry was with me as far back as I can remember, watching FA Cup fourth round fifth replays on Sportsnight in the late 1970s; you know, when footballers were real men, and didn't get too tired at the thought of running around for 90 minutes two or three times in the same week.

He was also on Grandstand and presented Sports Personality, but it was boxing with which he will always be most fondly connected. I loved watching boxing as a kid - I remember seeing Jim Watt win the world lightweight belt in 1979, and even before that, John Conteh was a favourite. For most of those fights I watched back then, Harry would have been in the hot seat. He was a consummate pro, incredibly charismatic and funny as hell when he wanted to be.

And yet, it was only when I read that he had died did I think back and recall those moments - I hadn't realised the impact he'd had on my childhood, much in the same way as Paul Newman's death hit me a couple of years ago; celebrites die, be they authors, actors or TV personalities, and you may think it's a damn shame, but that's as far as it goes. Yet there are some whose demise really shakes you. Harry Carpenter was one.

Thanks for the memories, Harry.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Coz we got a great big convoy...

I have a problem. No, not that one. Another one. Just one hour into editing Quackenbush last night, and I had to put the manuscript aside. Out came the notebook, and I tried to resolve the issue I realised had been there from very early on.

There's a gaping hole, not so much in the plot, but in the motivations of one set of characters. Throughout the story, they set themselves against both our heroes and the villains, trying to foil them. I feel, although I could be wrong, that they are crucial to the pace and tension, certainly in the second half of the book. And while there are vague reasons why they do what they do, I had a moment of dawning realisation - or, as Homer would put, the moment of 'Doh!' - and know, deep inside, that I could drive a convoy of huge monster trucks through their motivational holes.
How serious is it? Pretty. It's making it bloody difficult to focus on the job at hand, which is editing.

Yet I don't think it's terminal. There must be solutions that just haven't come to mind, but it's damn frustrating. Fortunately, there is much that can be done while I wait for this issue to resolve itself in my mind. And while the clock may be ticking, I also know it's not something I can rush. It has to feel right, it has to feel like a natural progression, otherwise I won't believe in the motivation, and I might as well give the manuscript to the kids to make paper airplanes (assuming they haven't nicked it already).

On the plus side, I was pleasantly surprised after that first hour of reading. Sure, there are some clunky sections which need a damn good polish, but, after more than a year away from the manuscript, it was a relief to find that there are some real nuggets in there.

Ultimately, the whole process just reinforces that sound piece of advice given to unpublished writers, but which applies equally well to all writers - once you've finished your first draft, put it to one side. For as long as possible. A few months minimum, six months if you can manage it. Then go back and read it with fresh eyes. It might be cliched, but you won't find a more worthwhile piece of advice in publishing.

Of course, that time apart doesn't magically fill holes that you'd forgotten were there. But at least you're coming at it from as neutral a perspective as you're going to get inside that mind of yours.