Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Times and Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition

I am blowing a trumpet today, and it is my very own. Not the easiest instrument to play, and it probably sounds pretty repulsive, but sometimes the occasion warrants a bit of a parp.

Today I found out that my novel The Tarney Scalp has been longlisted for The Times & ChickenHouse Children’s Fiction Competition. (There’s a short excerpt available under the ‘novel’ tab at the top of this blog.)

The longlist of 16 novels is whittled down from 2,000 or more apparently, so I feel I’ve already won a great prize. The fact that a Chicken House editor now has no choice but to read the manuscript is an added bonus!

Excerpts from all the longlisted novels will be appearing in The Times Online sometime soon, which is an exciting opportunity in itself. I’ve no idea how many people read The Times’ books section, but it’s got to be good exposure.

I’ve tried to look back and evaluate how I got to this point, having been scribbling away for years without any real belief that anyone would take any notice.

  • Being a regular member of the Brick Lane Writers’ Group has definitely been a factor, and I’d recommend writers’ groups to anyone who wants to gain momentum as well as oodles of feedback.
  • Going on residential writing courses or retreats (with Ty Newydd and Arvon) has also helped, providing motivation, a sense of a community of writers, and of course more invaluable feedback from professionals.
  • I have only just begun sending my work out to journals and competitions, beginning in September this year, and a series of small successes in that regard has made me feel that I am on the right track and writing is not futile. It’s reassuring to know that even if not everything you write is great, sometimes you hit the spot and that is enough. Sending something off with a view to publication really helps to crystallise your own view of the work, especially when you have to pay to enter a competition. After all, you only want your best words to be read by editors and potential audiences.

Having said all that, I have found it a strange experience having stories published. Perhaps it is the control freak in me, panicking at the idea that I cannot influence who reads them and what they might think about my writing. Suddenly something you have nurtured is cut loose, and has a life outside of your own domain. It brings self-doubt to the surface as much as it does any sense of pride or achievement. Perhaps that is just the curse of creativity though, and I am always suspicious of people who reveal no self-doubt at all. How else do we improve except by believing we could do better?

So, back to that draft of my next novel then...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Paper cutting and book making

A papercut for one of my short stories

Well, a week off from Mind and Language after National Blog Posting Month felt more like a week on with everything else. Luckily the everything else was creative too, though not all of the kind I enjoy. I have been wrestling with Adobe Indesign for the first time, trying to format my picture book (see the ‘papercuts’ tab above for a couple of images). I knew I could get frustrated with computers, but this took the stress to new heights, not helped by attempting to finish it within the 30 day limit of the software free trial. But, I’ve got something resembling a book, in electronic form at least, though I doubt the next stages will be any easier.

During the E17Arts Trail this year, when over 100 venues opened their doors to the curious, I visited an artists’ studio where they have an ancient traditional printing press. I won’t be able to use that to print from a PDF, but they also have a professional guillotine that can slice through inches of paper (or fingers) in one ker-chunk, and I am hoping they will let me use to cut the edges flush on my picture book. 

While I was there someone also showed me how to hand stitch a slim booklet spine, so I plan to retrieve that memory from wherever I lodged it and do the same. She made it look so easy...

So, my self-imposed Christmas deadline is looking unrealistic, but I’m on course to make my own book, which will be immensely satisfying. I’ve already started paper cutting for the next one, so I need to prove to myself that I can reach a finished product and all those hours with the craft knife will not have been in vain!

In the meantime a couple of my papercuts will be published in an anthology of stories and illustrations, Duality 6, one of them to complement my very own short story which is also in the book. You can see my hopeless attempt to photograph it above; it will be interesting to see how different it looks in print from the excellent photographs my brother took of my paper cuts for my own book. It was such a painstaking process that I intend to document it here fully for the benefit of other papercutters, so watch this space if you are interested in such obscure matters.

Paper cutting is a far more serene activity than it sounds. I imagined it would be horribly stressful – just one slip with the knife and hours of work is potentially ruined (I’m resisting that ‘on a knife edge’ pun), but actually it is so absorbing as to be meditative. In that respect I find it quite addictive and it is a great antidote to writing. I’ve got a long way to go when it comes to thinking in shapes rather than words, and it’s difficult to overcome the urge to make notes and instead start sketching. Still, I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief when this messing about with publishing software and printers is over and I can return to a sheet of origami paper and a craft knife.