Sunday 28 November 2010

How to post a podcast/recording on your website

By Candy Gourlay

This is a quickie tutorial on how to put a podcast (a.k.a. a sound file such as you reading aloud from your book!) on your website or blog.
Yes, this could be you!
I've just posted a recording of me reading from Tall Story on my other blog (it's on the sidebar, helpfully titled "Listen to me read an excerpt from Tall Story"). Do let me know what you think.

What you need to create a podcast:

1. Your raw sound recording. It might be you talking plus ambient sounds or commentary from other sources. You will need to record to a digital form - WAV or MP3. How? I am the proud owner of an H4N Zoom Recorder - a kind of high-tech version of the old tape recorders we hacks used to carry around. Most computers will have built in mics and basic recording software. You might even use your mobile phone. Mine does great recordings with a tiny bit of  hiss.You can also record yourself using a camcorder and extract the sound using Quicktime Pro (I've always thought it's worth the price - I even use it to download youtube videos). There used to be a free way to do this online called but I think they've turned to capitalism now.

2. A way to assemble/edit your recorded sounds and music. If you work on a mac, you can use Garage Band to edit your recording, adding music and voice. Never used Garage Band? Watch this video tutorial. If you work on a PC there is a lot of software for this but you might find the free-to-download Audacity a good way to mix. Here's an Audacity tutorial

3. Additional music or sound effects. Some tasteful music does make for a better end product. There are a lot of places online to find royalty free music (Google and listen). Garage Band comes with music loops from many instruments AND sound effects (do try not to be too annoying).

4. Webspace/server to host your MP3 online. Once you create your recording, you need to upload it to a server online. This might be your own host (I much prefer to the other ones out there). It might even be free webspace provided by your internet service provider (BT Internet, Virgin, they all give you free webspace - I couldn't find straightforward info on BT's free webspace, a bad sign). You can also sign up to the many podcast sites that provide hosting for a fee or free with ads. These sites are a lot like Podcast People and Podbean

5. Software to upload your MP3 to the server. You can use proprietary software such as Dreamweaver or a free ftp client like Filezilla . Ftp means 'file transfer protocol' - and the software is just a way of putting your file on the server. Here's a step-by-step for Filezilla

6. An mp3 player widget to put on the website. You can, of course just link to wherever you posted the sound file. But it's far cooler to have a button to press. I used this free flash mp3 player.

7. Oh and I am presuming you've already got a website or blog to post the thing on.

Here are the not-so-quick and no-so-easy steps to posting a sound file on your website (personally tested by yours truly):

1. Create the sound file. No, I'm not telling you how to do it here. My advice is: listen to Radio 4 for inspiration. Edit sharply. The shorter the better - my new reading is more than four minutes, probably too long.

2. Once you've edited to your heart's content, export as an MP3 file using your editing software (on Garage Band it's the 'share' button and on Audacity it's the File>export as) . This is what I did. Someone more widgety than me might advice using a higher resolution file such as a Wav but you'll have to ask them what to do next because I didn't do that.

3. Upload the MP3 to your webspace. How to upload? Use the aforementioned FTP software. This means you might have to teach yourself how to use it. How do you teach yourself? My personal favourite is googling "How to use (name of ftp software)" Always works for me.

4. Make sure you know the url by which to access your file. Url means uniform resource locator - it's the address of your file on the web or the link. You need this to link to from your website, or to input into the MP3 player in step five.

To find your url you need to know how your chosen webspace is organized. If you go on one of those podcast sites they will give you a link. I put my file in a folder called mp3 and uploaded it to my webspace on So the url of my file is How do you know your url? Ask your webspace provider.

5.Select the model of mp3 player you want on this site. There are other sites of course but this is the one I used. Some of the podcast websites that provide you with webspace might also provide you with the player. I couldn't be bothered to research all the podcast sites so I decided to host mine on my own own webspace (under my domain and just find some pretty buttons to paste on my blog. There were many sizes to choose from but I chose the maxi - which allowed me to control the sizes of the buttons and the colour. On the right, there's a menu - go straight to 'generator' where you can enter your desired settings. The page will generates all the code you need to style the player.

6. The mp3 player website was not very forthcoming about how to make the thing work so I followed this tutorial which walked me through posting onto my website. The tutorial happened to be in French but on my browser Google Chrome a message appeared asking if I wanted it translated to English. I clicked Yes, and the translation was surprisingly good.

The potentially confusing bit: the process does involve creating two more files - an xml and a text file. Don't panic. Take a deep breathe and do this:
1. The MP3 player generator page gives you the text to paste into the xml and text files (be careful not to close the browser page as you will have to start working on the settings from scratch).
2. Create the xml and text files using the free text editor that comes with your computer (Notepad or Wordpad or Textedit on Mac) - don't use Microsoft Word because it will just add its own code. Paste the text generated by the website into a new file and save with a .xml or .txt extension.Note: To make an xml file, you need to have an xml declaration at the very beginning of the page as described in this article, before you paste in the text provided.Just copy the declaration in that article.
 3.  Upload it into the same webspace as your sound file using your ftp uploader (eg Filezilla). I uploaded my files into the same folder as the sound file. 

7. Once you've uploaded your xml and text files, you can paste the html code provided by the generator into your website. (you have to paste it in 'Edit HTML' or 'code' mode on online website builders like Blogger or Jimdo).


It only sounds confusing when you're reading it and not doing.

Just do it.

Saturday 27 November 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

Posted by Candy Gourlay

Thanks to Fiona Dunbar for the heads up on this one!

If you're on Facebook and can't see the video, you can watch it on YouTube

Congrats to all the people who made it to 50k on Nanowrimo ... and to any who didn't - just keep writing!

Tuesday 23 November 2010

His Royal Beardship Philip Ardagh Responds to Writerly Questions

Posted by Candy Gourlay

 The SCBWI* gang recently had Philip Ardagh as guest author on the SCBWI message board.
(*Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators British Isles - phew!)

Photo © Angus Bremner

Philip was just one of many excitements on the SCBWI message board since we introduced competitive moderation - in which moderators change monthly and try to outdo each other in turning the message board into a more stimulating experience.

Well Mister Ardagh, he of the luxuriant beard and author of such comic titles as Grubtown Tales and the Eddie Dickens trilogy, was the star turn of moderator Jackie Marchant's turn at the list serv tiller.Philip answered all and sundry questions from SCBWIites, as long as they addressed him as Mr Ardagh Sir.  Jackie and Philip have kindly agreed to let me show you an excerpt on this blog. The names of questioners have been removed to protect them from accusations of sycophancy.

Does being funny all the time ever fill you with the desire to write tragedy?

US cover. Published by Faber in the UK
I certainly have the desire to move people. To make them feel what I want them to feel. You can actually tackle serious subjects and sadness in humorous writing.

I start off my Unlikely Exploits with the book The Fall of Fergal, and said Fergal falling from a window and being killed in the first paragraph. The reader doesn't know him. The choice of words is generally funny... but then the book takes us back to the lead up to the events, so that we get to know and care
about Fergal and his family, and also goes forward after his death to see the effect it has on his family...'s still 'funny', but there's a lot more going on there: alcoholic father, mother died in childbirth... In the second book another major character is killed. In the third book, we come to see this character in a totally different and sympathetic light.

The great thing about writing funny children's books is that you can actually write about anything and everything, including tragedy.

I think this is so true - it's not what you write but how you write it. I think the opening to The Fall of Fergal is brilliant - you are genius in making a tragic event funny!

Thank you. Can you hear that low humming? That's me BLUSHING!

Have you got a thing about cows?

Good question! I suspect this arises from the fact that in my Eddie Dickens books, Even Madder Aunt Maud lives inside a hollow cow called Marjorie and in the second Grubtown Tale, The Year that It Rained Cows , it -- er -- rains cows... honest answer is that I wasn't conscious that I had a thing about them but it seems to have been brought out in the writing.

That's the strange thing about being lucky enough to spend your working life writing, writing, writing. The sheer body of work means that you're bound to find out things about yourself from the recurring themes in your prose...which, in my case, seems to include cows!

You mentioned how you like to just write and plot as you write the first draft but when it comes to the humour how much work do you put into making it as funny as possible or should the humour be as spontaneous as possible and come out fully-formed on the page? Can it be overworked? And do you think being able to write something humorous is an innate part of the writer or can someone learn how to be funny? Thank you your royal highness Lord personage, Mr Ardagh, Sir

A reviewer once commented "Ardagh can't help writing funny" (or words to that effect) which just about sums it up. I never think of a character or situation and then impose funniness on it or try to work gags into it. It has to be organic. The people, the dialogue, the description all have to bubble forth funny and to stay that way... and that's just how I am and who I am.

Can one be taught to write funny? I think the answer to that is the same as simply, "Can one be taught to write?" If someone has an ability to write, they can be helped to write better. If they don't have the germ at the outset, there's no hope. It's just one of those things. I am useless at sport. I can tell the time, but have no idea how to drive a car. We're all different.

Someone who can write can probably learn tricks, methods, etc. to write humorously -- Douglas Adams famously said that writing was easy, all he had to do was bang his head against a blank page until the blood formed the words -- but for someone who is 'naturally' humorous, it's probably that little bit easier.

What do you do on those days when you just aren't feeling funny? The days when piranhas have nibbled your luxuriant facial hair or the birds have deserted your garden for the promise of worms elsewhere. Are you able to summon up funniness at will? Or do you just do something else instead?

As a young man.
As a fulltime writer, I work office hours (or longer). I try to be at my desk by 9.00am and I finish around 5.40pm. I take the weekend off. I used to work much longer hours and seven days a week but, fortunately -- touch wood -- I don't need to any more (and I have a young son).

Of course, I also spend a great deal of time appearing at events in the UK and abroad, so have to do most of my writing then on trains, planes and in the backs of cars. But we're talking typical 'at-home' days here.

Some writers only work in the mornings, or at night, or always seem to be driving their sit-on lawn mowers when the publishers call, but not me.

But am I writing or researching all that time? No, there are invoices to be generated, VAT returns to be filled in, fan mail to be answered, receipts to be made sense of and Facebook to be visited..., if the writing just ain't gelling, I switch to a bit of admin or, say, work on a 'serious' review for The Guardian. I also like to be working on more than one project at once so, if something isn't quite working over here, it might well be working over there.

Also, it usually not so much a matter of not feeling 'funny' as the writing process itself not being quite so willing to co-operate.


I'm a laugh a minute, me.

On a scale of I'll-see-where-this -takes-me to demonic-plotter - where do you fall? I can usually guess from the writing but so many peculiar things happen in your books I'm really not sure....

With knitted beard presented to him at
2009 SCBWI Conference
I'm certainly the former in that I see where the writing leads, but -- as I try to explain to children -- because 'proper' writing involves rewriting, this is in a sense a form of plotting because what appears in an early draft may never make it to the final book.

Whereas some authors may work everything out in notebooks or on Post It notes or index cards, which they can shuffle about before writing a single word of the manuscript, I am in effect doing something similar, but in my first draft.

I like the fluidity of this approach, and seeing how a single turn of phrase or choice of words can lead me in a whole new (and unexpected) direction. Sometimes, I end up in a blind alley. Sometimes in fertile fields... it's an adventure.

In a book there's the plot and how you tell it (the story itself). Early drafts may feel like they're storytelling but turn out to be telling me what the book will be about... which I then go back and tell from a different angle.

Does that make sense?

It does and Hoorah! I write exactly like this but often feel I'm cheating when I hear about the spider-ven-post-it -diagrams that others do...

Mr & Mrs Ardagh. Phillip
is said to take after his mother's
side of the family
When I was at school, we were sometimes required to write a story plan at the top of page before writing the story. I, like many others, left a space at the top, wrote the story then filled in the 'plan' once I knew what had happened.

I know some published authors like that. There's they way they really write and the way they tell people they write, because they somehow feel they're cheating!

My feeling is whatever works for the individual. If one can write a masterpiece in one draft, then why bother rewriting... but it's RARE!

I am constantly amazed at the miracles of rewriting. Chapters I've written and rewritten countless times and yet you'd never know that to look at them. Of course, that doesn't make the smoothing any easier, but it's worth it for the end result.

So true. The paragraphs which caused the most pain to the author are often the ones most easily read by the reader, who simply takes them in their stride because the words are, by then, so RIGHT that they don't get in the way.

As you say, humour is subjective. Who really makes you laugh? And what do you enjoy reading (children's books or otherwise)? I enjoyed your post in the Guardian this past weekend about your experience on the judging panel for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Are you at liberty to say which book you `called in' as an eligible title for the prize, that HADN'T been submitted by a publisher? Or am I prying too much?

Let me start by telling you that the one book which was called in was Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates and -- er -- IT WON the under 6 category. Yes, it won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010, and her publisher hadn't even submitted it! It really is a lovely read and I throughly recommend it.

As for who makes me laugh: mid-period Woody Allen, early John Irving, the wonderful Raymond Chandler. In fact, despite all the praise heaped upon Chandler, I STILL think he's one of the most underrated great writers. Because he helped to create a genre which has been flogged to death since, we forget
just how original he was. The detective element is also a distraction from the fact of just how superb his prose is, and just how FUNNY. (I think the same can be said of Ed McBain.)

Speaking at the SCBWI Conference:
"Not laughing might be dangerous to
your health"
I don't generally read humour for pleasure. I live, breath and write funny.

Gissa break! ;O)

Most professional writers I've met seem not to believe there is such a thing as writer's block. However, we all get times where the words just won't come - well, not the right words anyway. My question is - if that happens to you - how do you 'unblock' yourself (apart from the Fruit 'n' Fibre)?

I think I've sort of answered that in response to another question. Over the years, I've disciplined myself to keep certain hours -- and not to be distracted by creating complicated sandwiches or by watching (much) daytime television -- and being at my desk for these periods.

If I'm struggling with the actual writing, I tackle admin but stay at my desk. What I DON'T go and do is wander around the garden or nip out to the shops.

With Alison Green, the editor who
picked The Gruffalo out of the
slushpile. Philip, after a radical
diet has succeeded in
shrinking to Alison's size 
I think it's really important that writers have time set aside for writing. I'm luck enough to do it full time but, even if a person only has three hours a week, those three hours should be sacred and if in those three hours the writing ain't flowing, the person needs to stay at their desk and do writing-related activities [!] so that special time isn't eroded by 'putting away the clothes from the airing cupboard' instead.

This helps with the focus. As for those days when a certain piece of writing just isn't coming together, I switch to another project: plans for a new book, a bit of research, or a review, for example.

What about you?

One thing I've learnt is to just KEEP WRITING. Where ever the words have gone, they will come back. Very rarely -  andwith no deadline looming - I will give myself permission not
to write that day and do something totally unrelated to my work. Invariably, the next day, I will find the answer straight away!

Spot on!

Sticking at the desk and writing through the block/hiccup/treacle is SO important. It's the key!

How much experimenting did you do (if any) before you settled on funny fiction for kids? And, this may seem a sneaky extra question but it's all linked, if you thought of your writing as an iceberg, with the published stuff above the waves and unpublished below what would the proportions be?

Ardagh has become so famous he
sometimes has to resort to a disguise
to avoid the attentions of fans
It's a fair cop. When I was a very young man I used to attempt to write sub-standard adult stuff (which often turned out to be funny, even if I didn't want it to) which I was far too eager to send to publishers in an embarrassingly unpolished form. I received numerous rejection letters, many written in the standard form but also some wonderfully encouraging letters, which spurred me on.
It was when I was about thirty that I turned my attention to writing for children and it FREED ME UP so wonderfully. Philip Pullman once described writing for children as such a well-kept secret: you get to write about anything and everything in an infinite variety of ways... and I haven't looked back.

PS. As for the ratio of published v. unpublished work, I probably have three fat manuscripts which have never seen the light of day -- and, boy, now I wouldn't want them to! -- compared to all my titles which are actually out there, so it would be an inverted iceberg if that makes sense.

Nowadays, I get commissioned on the basis of atitle and an outline and -- if it's a real departure from my usual work -- maybe some sample text, but I'm not writing a complete manuscript then submitting it.

Winners of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize Louise Yates and Louise Rennison
with Philip Ardagh, Michael Rosen and Liccy, Roald Dahl's widow. Photo by John Shelley
I never throw anything away, though, and have -- over the years -- cannibalized plot ideas and characters from pieces of incomplete writing I've done, and they've always been SO much happier in their new home.

On the subject of funniness . . . do you think it is age-related? ... what really confuses me is why adults rate funny books so low on the scale - just look at book-prize winners. After all, if anyone needs a good giggle, it's people who've grown up and realise it's the only sensible response to life. Any insights, O Wise One?

US cover. Published by Faber in the UK
Why people look down on humour as a lower art form (or not as an art form at all) is a mystery to me, and I think we'll have to save that debate for another day!

As for age-related humour, if we put aside willy-bum-poo ("laugh at anything") humour for very young children, I think it -- once again -- comes down to taste.

I don't write with a particular child in mind, or an imaginary 'perfect' reader. I don't even write for my 'inner child' [YERCH!]

I write for me.

I have to write.It is a need. And I satisfy that need by writing in the way that I do best, forever learning along the way. I don't generally read funny adult books for pleasure. (The likes of John Irving are very amusing, but humour isn't necessarily their primary function.)

Humour also changes with maturity. My Eddie Dickens adventures are really pitched at 8 plus. Some sixteen-year-olds may think they're childish, but I get letters from an awful lot of adults who love them...

...but, to some teenagers, my books are 'cult reads', so it's very difficult to pigeon hole humour by age, I'd say.

Do you ever lose confidence in a funny line? I’ve written stuff in the past that felt funny the first time round. I’ve looked at it a second time and it looked maybe a tad less funny, and by the third or fourth time I’m left wondering what on earth struck me as funny in the first place. How do you keep the humour fresh in your head?

There's a well-known story about a group of advertising executives who put together a whole year's worth of an advertising campaign to pitch to a client. When they win the business, they then start creating the actual ads. A few months in, they hold a big meeting and decide that they need a new approach. They need something fresh. "The public will be tired of these ads by now!" says one, and there's a general buzz of agreement... until one guy said, "But hang on, we haven't actually aired the first commercial yet!"

US cover. Published by Faber in the UK
Just because you've been working and reworking and reworking something, it's easy to lose sight of how a reader will react to seeing it for the first time.

So let me tackle it from a slightly different angle. You ask if I ever lose confidence "in a funny line". This suggests that it's a stand-alone line, which stands or falls on its funniness in isolation. I'd say that with a novel the lines are working together. If a character's saying it, he's saying it because it's in character and it's appropriate for the situation. If you're true to that - however silly the premise -- then it'll stand up and do its job.

Coming back to a draft after shoving it in a drawer for a while is no bad thing. You can often d a bit of a polish then, but if a line has been written to be stand alone funny, maybe that's when it has its potential to be at its weakest.

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize shortlist was announced as a set of 'bad' jokes. Would you consider writing a good joke book or do you prefer to write character-based humour?

Misguided fan ceases shaving,
 allowing Ardaghmania
to cloud her better judgement
Away from my writing, I'm never one for telling jokes, except ones which I consider exceptionally good and which can be told very quickly. That's probably because a well crafted joke needs to be told in a particular way and I like to be more spontaneous and free-forming. That's not to say I don't enjoy listening to other people's (good) jokes.

As far as writing is concerned, I often put humorous characters in silly situations behaving in a silly way, and the words I use to express this -- from my intrusive narrative voice - are just as important, but I don't really see any of these separate elements as jokes as such..., although my writing isn't pure character-driven comedy, I much prefer that to a string of jokes.

The juggling act I perform with my intrusive narrators, present in Eddie Dickens, Unlikely Exploits and Grubtown Tales in subtly different ways, is what seems to mark me out from other writers in the minds of the critics. (Some love it. Some HATE it.)

It's a tricky balance because I'm interested in constantly reminding the reader that this is a book they have in their hands but, at the same time, want them to engage with the characters and to care about what happens to them.

One of the most difficult pieces of editorial feedback I have ever received was the suggestion that my novel needed to be "more funny." Have you ever received such a judgement and how did/would you handle it?

It's a bit like someone saying, "You're not as clever as you think you are." What are you supposed to do with that information... or is it more of an opinion?

I've never been asked to make a book more funny, but -- if I were -- I think I'd ask for more specifics: Crazier characters? Crazier situations? Crazier use of language? Only then would I have something to work on. 'Too funny' is just too vague.

And, once they'd told me I would explain why they were wrong and then e-mail them a photo of a large custard pie, with the instruction: "PLEASE PRESS FACE AGAINST COMPUTER SCREEN". I would then wait six minutes and phone them, shouting, "NOW WHO'S BEING TOO SODDING FUNNY?" at them, at the top of my voice.

Criticism is good. Criticism is useful. Sometimes.

When I was growing up I noticed that there were an AWFUL lot of stories in which children got eaten for minor misdemeanours such as playing the violin awfully well, excessive politeness and, well.... you get the gist. DId you notice the same? And if so, did you think such a comeuppance was justified? Or does that not really matter for the sake of a good twist in the tale?
When Philip Ardagh was banned by
Facebook for commenting too much (?!)
SCBWI members led a campaign for his
reinstatement by growing beards.
This was mine. 

I think children being eaten for nourishment, pleasure or discipline can only be a good thing, if done in moderation.

Many thanks to Philip Ardagh for allowing me to post his answers, to the SCBWI British Isles list serv for their wit and to Jackie Marchant for inviting Philip to be our guest.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Guest Blogger Rebecca Colby: Ten Commandments of a Serious Writer

Rebecca Colby's photo, writing with a baby on her lap, is one of my favourite images from the 10th birthday video of SCBWI. She is one of the 'almost-there's' of SCBWI's unpublished fraternity, one of those unpublished writers who make winning prizes a past-time, while waiting for the undeserved rejection slips to change their tune. At SCBWI's recent whizz-bang 10th birthday conference, Rebecca, as expected, casually won the competition to write up her top ten tips for creative peopleVisit Rebecca's website here.
Here is her hilarious entry!

1. Thou shalt not stalk editors and agents on-line, or send them boxes of chocolates with your manuscript. They far prefer bottles of wine and being cornered in lifts.

2. Thou shalt not place false images of photographs or other likenesses of oneself on websites and jacket flaps that are more than five years old because—believe it or not--these are no longer likenesses!

3. Thou shalt not steal napkins from coffee shops. If you need something to write on, scribble tattoos on your skin instead. You’re more apt to be sent to prison for indecent exposure than stealing a serviette, and what better way to find time and space to write. (It certainly didn’t do Jeffrey Archer any harm.)

4. Thou shalt not fill slushpiles with anything you’ve written that your mother, granny, auntie, best friend’s cousin, etc. declare they love, because the chances are that any editor you send it to WON’T! Get a second opinion.

If you share your book with the dog and he doesn’t try to eat it, then it might not be rubbish after all. In which case, send it to a consultancy agency first--after remortgaging the house to pay for it. It will be worth it! They will cover your manuscript in red ink to ensure you get your money’s worth.

Alternatively, you could just sell the house and self-publish. Your name on a title deed will never match the thrill of your name on the cover of a book. Even if you only sell four copies. Bought by your mother, granny, auntie and best friend’s cousin.

5. Thou shalt not curse (or cry) when Julia Eccleshare does not wax lyrical about your book. It doesn’t matter. It’s only one opinion. Never mind that she is one of the most respected children’s book reviewers in the country. With a degree in English literature from Cambridge. Who has spent her entire working life critiquing children’s books. It doesn’t matter. Much.

6. Thou shalt not lie and tell your partner you’ve been writing all day, when in fact, you’ve been catching up with your friends on Facebook, surfing the Internet and playing Bejeweled. (Technically speaking, however, tweeting and texting counts as writing.)

7. Thou shalt not take another writer's name in vain, even after she (or he) has written your book—that same book with the similar premise, plot, character, etc. that you’ve spent the last five years pouring your heart and soul into—and published it before you. (But you may consider suing her if you believe she’s been spying on you in your locked garden shed 200 miles away from where she lives, or you think she’s been telepathically reading your mind. Especially if she’s sold the movie rights to the book.)

8. Thou shalt not succumb to middle grade spread. BIC means placing ‘Butt In Chair,’ not dunking ‘Biscuits In Coffee.’ No one wants to spend their first advance on elasticated waistband trousers. (And don’t let your books grow saggy, flabby middles either.)

9. Thou shalt not kill time. You can train yourself to write anywhere, at any time, with any number of children bouncing on your knee, off the walls, or sneaking off to stick their hand in the toilet in the name of discovery (or is that just my kid?!)

They’re your inspiration, not a distraction. Don’t waste time cleaning (your children will have far better immune systems if you don’t—especially if they get a kick out of sticking their hands in the toilet), or cooking (these same kids will have dropped plenty of leftovers on the carpet to eat) or Googling your name (lest you discover a transvestite librarian in Wisconsin uses your name for his female persona—no joke!). The ironing will keep. You won’t. Don’t wait until you are lined with more wrinkles than your clothes to make time for your writing.

10. Thou shalt not loot the family’s holiday budget for writing conferences. Unless you take the family with you. And the conference is in Italy.

Monday 15 November 2010

SCBWI British Isles is Ten!

This is actually a momentous occasion, folks: the very first post by my new blogging partner Teri Terry! That's her pictured right. Now that my fortunes have changed, I've started a new blog (please follow me, so I don't look so unloved). The blog is targeted at readers. Notes from the Slushpile has always been focused on writers and so shall it remain. I think in this new age where there are so many voices on the internet, it would be a waste to give up this blog which has run for six years, with a peak audience of 2,500 readers a day. The audience has drooped as my blogging dwindled because of writing commitments - but have no fear, we have a plan. To start with I have recruited Teri Terry to blog with me ... but eventually I hope to turn Notes from the Slushpile into an online magazine, open to contributions and wisdom from all you other travellers out there who have experience of the slushpile. Onward and upward! Candy Gourlay

I am fired up, raring to go, and excited about writing, and it isn’t just because Candy has let me loose on her blog! I just spent the weekend at the 10th anniversary celebration and mass book launch that was the SCBWI British Isles Onwards and Upwards conference.

It was brilliant time catching up with friends old and new, and I even learned a few things along the way. Some are not what you’d expect, at all….


1. A two hour journey on motorways on a rainy Friday afternoon takes over four hours.

2. Do not – under any circumstances – take the wrong path. In a graveyard. Alone. In the dark, in the rain, when you are late and don’t have time to retrace your steps. This is a very, very bad idea.

It is also good not to read anything written by Nick Cross before this walk...

3. Watch out for the Undead (see no. 2), and strange eyes that follow you late at night, from under the stairs.

OK, I feel your skepticism. Believe me: this looked much scarier
in the dark at 2 a.m. after walking through a graveyard

4. There are four P’s, and they are important to story: Plot, Pace, Place, and People. Marcus Sedgewick says so, and as well as inspiring and clever, he is rather divine. This was universally agreed in the back row at his keynote.
The Divine Mr M

5. The guys wear the best shoes.

6. An editorial director at a major publisher – no names dropped, here – can be rather lovely, and encouraging, and positively wonderful. In fact, a few ideas were born, and the whole process is looking more of a hill than a mountain.
Rebecca Hill for Usborne, Kayt Bochenski for Harper Collins, Tom Truong for Stripes, Sarah Lilly for Orchard, Brenda Gardner for Picadilly, and Bella Pearson for David Fickling Books

7. Purple is The Colour of 2010.
Julienne Durber & Philippa Francis:
on trend in the colour purple

8. It is ok to be an Internet Slut, Fetishist, or Experimentalist. It is also ok to update your Facebook status while attending a talk on Social Networking. In fact, it is practically required.
Keren David can't control herself (neither can I)

9. There is a bell in case of emergencies. I’m not sure what happens if you ring it, but it is good to know it is there.
It was outside my door at my B&B : it was SO hard not to ring it!

10. Helium filled balloons may be pretty, but they don’t make good travelling companions in the back of a car.
They just refused to duck down! Imagine!

Of course, there were also the Expected.

The conference was run like a well organized machine by dedicated SCBWI volunteers; the speakers were inspiring; everyone was there ready to work and play hard. The editor and industry panels told all their secrets. My talented and understanding critique group got on just fine without me as I dealt with motorways, and the Undead.
So hard at work! Lucy van Smit, Kathryn Evans, Mariam Vossough, Linda Lawlor and friends

Party time! John Shelley, Candy Gourlay & Benjamin Scott

Special thanks to Bex Hill, Benjamin Scott and all the other lovely SCBWI volunteers involved in making the conference such a success; to Paula Harrison for getting me there and back, with only a few wrong turns, red light and balloon-related incidents; and to Candy Gourlay for putting together such an amazing video of Scooby-ites working hard at their craft ( I don’t think anyone could watch it without feeling proud to be a part of SCBWI, and a little choked up.

Our amazing conference chair, Bex Hill, and party guru, Benjamin Scott

Now for the big question: how are we ever going to top this next year?

Thursday 11 November 2010

Slowmo Wrimo? Just keep going

Well it's the second week of Nanowrimo. How's it going?

Are you feeling like this:

Or like this:

(With thanks to Meg Rosoff for this brilliant animation.)

Nicola Morgan had some fine advice for Wrimo people; though there were some driven to grumpiness by theWrimo hysteria that seemed to overwhelm the web in the run-up to November.

Me, I think it's a good idea - IF it's the kick in the backside that you need. It's almost the end of the second week now. Tina Matanguihan of the Refine Me blog invited me to write a pep talk for Filipino Wrimos. I was very happy to oblige.

I did a talk for the second week - the week when Wrimos usually hit The Wall.

Thinking about what advice to give, all I could think was that whatever happens the end result of this exercise should be USEFUL. That the quantity of words should be in a shape that can be remodelled into the quality that was eschewed by this project in the name of getting the book down.

So here's my pep talk, for what it's worth. And thank you, Tina for making me stop and think about it. Nick Cross, look away now:

Greetings Wrimo Writers!

It’s Week Two, how are you coping? Are you still gliding swiftly on beautiful turns of phrase, skilfully churning out the chapters, on target to hit the half-way mark by the end of the week – which, by the way (she adds helpfully), is 25,000 words?

Or have the words gone gluey in your brain, those perfectly formed sentences dangling just beyond your reach as you sit frozen over a screen, taunted by that stupid screensaver of holiday snaps from happier days, never to return?

Before I turned to fiction, I worked for  a news features agency in London. Every day I dropped the baby off at the child minder at 8.30am, got to the office by 9am, left work at 5pm sharp to collect the baby, having written two 600 word articles. EVERYDAY. I did phone interviews before 12pm, had a quick sandwich and was writing by 1pm.

This was when I discovered the truth about Writer’s Block:

There is no such thing.

There is no such thing as losing your ability to write. There is no such thing as losing your talent. But there is such a thing as having nothing to write about.

What most writers declare to be Writer’s Block is nothing more than a lack of ideas.

A lack of ideas is nothing more than a lack of information.

And why would there be a lack of information? Because there is work to be done.

On that agency job, all the times that I couldn’t get words out it was because I didn’t have enough info to make my story. So I picked up the phone and asked some more questions. I picked up the newspaper to do some more research. And inevitably, the story would take shape. At 5pm I could press the send button on that telex machine (yes, those were the days) and go home to give my baby some dinner.

If NaNoWriMo were about quality and not quantity, I would be prescribing all sorts of inspirational activities – read a poem, watch a good movie, gaze out a window. But this is about churning out a novel, folks, not crafting: CHURNING. To get those words out, you can’t stop moving.

Here are a some tips to help you get over that first Wall, however fat and solid and tall it may be.

Make sure you’ve got something to write. Words don’t just come when summoned. They need a story with living breathing characters, problems, settings and plot to hang on. If you seem to have hit a brick wall – can it be that you need to do some work on your story?

Stay in your seat, keep those fingers on the keyboard. Do you need a rest? DON’T. That’s right. Don’t take a break. Don’t get yourself another coffee. Don’t check your email. Write the next sentence, however hard that is. And when you’ve finished writing it, write another one. And another. No novel was ever written without keeping one’s buttocks on the seat.

Just keep swimming!

Break it down. Wrimo writers should write with their eye on the prize: 50,000 words. WRONG. 50,000 words divided by 30 days in November is about 1,700 words a day. Plan a day here and there where your target is 2,000. Plan a day here and there where your target is 500. Smaller targets are achievable, making days with bigger targets less threatening.

Sketching. When the pretty words aren’t coming, try sketching. Use phrases, no details, no dialogue unless it comes to you easily. Use big brush srokes. See your scenes in their bare bones. It is so much easier to write pretty words when you have a structure to hang them on.

Turn reported description into active scenes. You’re doing okay, getting the story out, but your word count is dismal. How can you boost word count without resorting to useless padding? Here’s what you do: read through and find a “reported” scene. A reported scene is something like “Carlos despises Maria”. In Show and Tell, it’s the Tell. It’s not on the stage. Put it on the stage. Turn that into a scene. How Carlos asks Maria on a date but forgets to turn up. And when Maria rings him, he makes her feel small and stupid, as if she deserved to be left in the lurch. Literally, turn it into a Show – not only is it better writing, it will fatten up your word count!

• Use back story to build even more scenes. Exposition is the bane of novel writers, right? Those long explanatory paragraphs that get in the way of the action – so boring but so necessary. Necessary, sure but you can avoid the boring part by sneakily slipping it somewhere else in the text – maybe not even in the same chapter. This is called a Set up, a fine way to build word count!

Check your chapters for long bits of exposition. Cut them out! Now find a sneaky place in an earlier chapter where you can plant a scene that serves that purpose. A scene – meaning a mini-event (see the previous point about turning description into scenes). Now when you get to the part of the story where the back story used to be the reader already knows about it. Your story skips apace, and so does your word count.

So there you are. The wall is scaled. The two weeks are almost done. Two more weeks to go.

Keep those fingers flying, and keep your bottom on that seat. After all is said and done, just getting on with it is what you have to do. And then believe you me, 50,000 words are coming soon to a manuscript near you.


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