Bookshop shenanigans

10421449_674248686040606_4388219743124469781_nI was in a branch of Waterstones the other day, which is the big bookshop chain in the UK, and I noticed that, where the face-out copy of J.K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy should have been something else had appeared.

Another book was sitting there, taking the glory, and, to make things worse, it was a pretty shoddy looking book. It was skinny, barely more than a pamphlet, and it had a dull maroon cover with a white line drawing on the front. It reminded me of school text books from the 1970s. How could this cuckoo in the nest have got there? Well, I’m not Raymond Chandler, I wasn’t even in the detective fiction aisle, but I’m guessing we need look no further than the author of the ‘misplaced’ book.

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Why we need writers like Caroline Aherne

UK_Outline_and_Flag.svgI was watching an old repeat on TV recently of a sitcom called The Royle Family. It was being shown because its creator, Caroline Aherne, died recently from cancer, tragically young at 52.

Neither Caroline nor her work will mean a great deal to people outside the UK I don’t suppose but here for a while, in the nineties and noughties, she was something of a force of nature and brought a type of writing to television that we don’t really see any more and that, right at the moment, we really need.

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Five tips to win short story competitions

imageI was delighted this week to give a talk at the Evesham Festival of Words in the UK  about writing to win short story competitions. I won a big one in the UK some years ago called the Bridport Prize and more recently I have also become a judge for story competitions.

So I was asked for my suggestions about what a writer can do to improve their chances of winning these big writing contests.

I offered five simple tips I think can put people on the right track towards doing well in these competitions. During the conversation we all had after my talk a fellow writer added an important bonus tip – which is to seek out the competition anthologies which publish the winning stories in these competitions and read them, so getting an important insight into what it takes to win.

Here are my original five tips:

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Reading and writing

imageI was reading at the Evesham Festival of Words last night – lots of fun. What’s an Evesham I hear you ask? It’s a small town in Worcestershire, semi near to where I live in the UK.

I enjoyed it. The whole thing it was delightful. It was held at a wonderful museum in a 14th century building called the Almonry in the town, which is one of those places which we tend to overlook in the UK but are genuinely ancient and overflowing with stories. These are buildings with low beams because people used to be shorter. Listen, I’m going to say, without bothering to check on Google, that this building is older than America. (White people America). It was doing its thing before McDonalds, imagine that.

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Should we be sexy in print or not?

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Steady on! How raunchy should you be in print?

I was chatting to a fellow writer on Facebook recently who asked my advice on her work. She’s writing a few different things on the way to her first published novel but one project is a type of romance novel and essentially, she wanted my view on how spicy she should make it.

She said: “I’m not sure how far to go with it because I could get a little graphic in that one if I wanted to. I just don’t know if I should keep it PG or not?”

Well my view is basically this – nobody can tell you as a writer what you are comfortable with when it comes to sexual content – it really is up to you.

But one or two things did come to mind:

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Steven Scaffardi – author profile

A warm welcome today to lad-lit author Steven Scaffardi whose new book The Flood is out right now. Steven and I have both written novels which are romantic comedies from a male perspective plus we both have a background in newspaper journalism so it’s a real pleasure to have him along here today – welcome Steven.


Steven S Head & Shoulder 1Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

Hey Chris, thanks for taking the time out to chat to me. I studied journalism at university and after graduating I freelanced for a while for various football magazines and lad mags, before becoming the sports editor for a local paper in Crawley.

After three years I switched careers, working in the media and marketing sector, but continued to enjoy writing in my personal time and eventually I wrote The Drought.

In terms of how I have developed my writing skills, I’d say that I try to make sure that each character has a true identity and individual personality. It doesn’t matter if they appear in one chapter or in all of the chapters I want to know exactly how they’d react in a certain situation. The more you know about your characters the easier it is to create the world around them.

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Thinking of writing fiction for a living? Think again.

A wise old rocker once said: “There are only two types of money to be made in rock and roll, less than you might think and more than you can possibly imagine.”

US_Dollar_banknotesThere are not many ways in which writing is like rock and roll, but this is one.

It was recently suggested that authors effectively live in a third world economy because, like such economies, the wealth is pooled at the very top of the pile and there is no middle class.

You are either very rich or very poor as an author and the poor outnumber the rich at about the same sky-high rates that the dead outnumber the living.

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Defining moments and unfortunate trousers

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Lederhosen. Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc

An old mate of mine, we shall call him George, for that is his name, once told me a story about his childhood. His family was a long way from wealthy and foreign holidays were not on the agenda, but his aunt once made a trip abroad to Austria and returned to Glasgow with a gift for George.

He opened his parcel it to find, to his horror, that it contained a pair of lederhosen. To his even greater horror, his mother made him wear them to school the next morning. He had been hoping to get through the day by keeping a low profile but it wasn’t to be as his form teacher dragged him up in front of the class and made him model his outlandish attire.

“Look everyone,” she said. “George is wearing genuine Tyrolean Lederhosen.”

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Man out of time

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Newspaper printing, photo: Sunderland Echo

Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong century – not in terms of technology, (I like iPhones and I’m looking forward to a car which drives itself) but professionally. I’m a man out of time.

I spent years as a print journalist and then newspapers suddenly and unexpectedly imploded into a puff of dust. When I started as a reporter, and even later as a news editor and editor, it was a reasonable profession akin to others such as teaching in its pay and prospects. These days it seems a dying trade, it’s a children’s crusade and those lured into it often end up desperate either to hang on or to get out. I’ve moved into PR now, there’s plenty of life in that thankfully!

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Should authors be paid for festivals?

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Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literature Festival. Photograph by Adrian Hon

Lots of debate this week as to whether authors should be paid for their appearances at literary festivals.

It’s come about because acclaimed author Philip Pullman took the principled decision to step down from his role as Patron of the Oxford Literature Festival over its failure to pay authors for appearances. Here’s the full story on that in the Bookseller

My view, for what it’s worth, is a big cheer for Pullman and a big pantomime boo for the Oxford festival. I can’t make the basic point better than Pullman did himself. The Oxford festival isn’t some new event, it’s well established. And it pays everybody else involved in the thing. It pays for the marquees it uses, the electricity, the catering, the drinks receptions. It pays salaries to administrators, and publicists and to the people who design and print the programmes.

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