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Getting the Facts Right

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Tue, April 11, 2017 09:35:59
I'm over on the Author Allsorts blog talking about 'getting the facts' right in historical fiction:

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To new beginnings

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Sat, December 31, 2016 14:54:19

There are days on the calendar that we like to imbue with some kind of unworldly power. Often, these are religious feasts such as Christmas and Easter. For the increasing numbers of us who don’t subscribe to a faith, these are days we join in for reasons of convention (or just for the chocolate).

But for me, there are days of the year that do have a special kind of magic. They are these nameless, quiet days in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The lights and greenery still decorate the house, but the sense of anticipation is gone and the busy-ness has died away.

I know that some of us get wrenched straight back onto the work treadmill. But for many, these are strange days that feel somehow out of normal time. We forget what weekday it is. We sleep longer and we drop all rules about what we should eat and drink and when we should do it. There are often days when it barely gets light before it’s dark again – as I write, it’s just after two in the afternoon and it’s definitely dusk.

That closed-down quietness feels nurturing. Not having to read other people’s writing has cleared my mind and I have written more productively in the last week than I have for much of the year.

And there is the feeling that we’re all about to be somehow renewed. 2016 is shutting down. Our rational minds know that time and the calendar is an artificial construct, of course. Although those terrible events and losses were nothing to do with some sort of cursed year, when the clock ticks past midnight we will all feel that we can, in some sense, close them off. January the First is all about promises and possibilities.

Whatever we did or did not achieve in 2016 belongs to the past and we are on a clean, blank page. And for a writer – what could be more exciting?

May 2017 bring you everything you wish.

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Season's Greetings!

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Sun, December 25, 2016 13:55:02
Have a fantastic time this festive season! Here's to a hopeful 2017. x

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Merry Christmas

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Sun, December 18, 2016 20:12:17
Yes, I know. More months of radio silence. More weak apologies. What can I say?

Here come the excuses:

In September, I started a new job. This is full-time and teaching journalism at Leeds Beckett University. So far, I am loving every moment of it. The course is rated fourth in the whole of the country by The Guardian. So I am proud to be here. But like any new job, it's taken some settling in!

Here I am with some of the third year students on our last newsday - the festive dress code was to raise money for Save the Children.

And in October I started another new job (part-time!). I'm tutoring on the Open University's brand new creative writing MA course.

Add that to my other stuff (the OCA, the Penguin Random House Writers' Academy) and I hope you will forgive me for letting the blog slip (again). I will try to do better.

It's been a great year for me personally, in terms of the new jobs. The YA novel The Misper is to be published in 2017 - and if you think I am being vague about the detail, then you'd be right, as there are still some contract issues being sorted out (months after I thought we were home and dry!).

To be honest, though, what with Trump and Brexit and Syria and all of that shiz, I don't think I would count 2016 as one of the best years ever. This Stephen Collins cartoon sums it up - do check out his work, as he always makes me laugh.

Thanks to everyone who's supported me and my writing this year and for following my all-too-sporadic blog.

Have a lovely Christmas - try reading and writing. They always work for me!

I wish all of us the gift of hope in 2017.

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Feeding my brain at Berwick Literary Festival

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Sat, October 22, 2016 19:05:48

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have several jobs at the moment and so finding the time to take a breath and think about books and writing has fallen, sadly, to the bottom of my ‘must’ list.

So it was wonderful to be forced into it – in the friendliest of ways – this weekend. Berwick Literary Festival in my home town is in its third year and I’ve been lucky enough to be part of it since its inception.

On Friday, I held a short story writing class. (I’ve been chewing over the term ‘masterclass’. It feels like a male term to me. Someone kindly told me that my masterclass ‘was indeed masterly’, which was a lovely compliment, but it did feel as if I was being complimented in a male-ish way, rather like being told I’m a good man. Am I wrong, anyone? And is there a gender-neutral way of saying ‘masterclass’?)

Anyway, the short story ‘expert tutorial’ – for want of a better phrase – attracted a very talented group of twelve aspiring writers, who – I hope – all went home with a good head start on a new story and some advice on how to structure and to complete it. Teaching writing is always an inspiring thing to do.

But Saturday was my day for enjoying other authors’ work. It was fascinating to be in conversation with the journalist and non-fiction writer Andrew Hankinson, hearing how he came to write the compelling You Could Do Something Wonderful With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat].

We discussed why he was drawn to this tragic story and the ethical considerations in using the reams of material collected after Moat’s death. It’s a gripping read – even if we all know the end of the story – and a deep insight into the mind of a man who’s just committed murder. If you want to know what could drive someone to that, then this is the book that examines it.

I went straight from there to hear Shelley Day in conversation with former Tyne Tees political editor Gerry Foley, who has the kind of resonant voice and Irish accent I could listen to all day. I knew a little about Shelley’s novel, The Confession of Stella Moon, in its making, but Gerry’s insightful questions and the author’s open and generous answers were truly enriching.

It reminded me why festivals like this are so important. As an author, connecting with readers is vital. As a reader, hearing the processes and the creative practice behind the writing of a novel gives extra depth and meaning to the act of reading.

I feel as if, for an afternoon, I stepped off the treadmill and fed my brain. Remind me to do this more often, won’t you?

Thanks to Shelley for sending me this pic of my books in the local bookstore window! Always nice to see!

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What happens next?

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Sat, August 27, 2016 18:03:12
What happens after you sign a publishing contract?

I've been with three different publishers now and in every case, the process was the same.

Shy, introverted writer types, listen up: once you have signed the contract, the first thing publishers want to talk about is ...publicity.

Yes. That. Not the plan for editing, or indeed anything directly connected to how you write. But how the book's going to be marketed.

Every publisher I've worked with has sent me a very prompt form to fill in, asking for information like: my author bio, with any points of interest. What are my local news outlets? Who do I know who could help publicise my book? Would I undertake a blog tour? Which bloggers do I know? Would I object if they give out my number to the media and am I prepared to do interviews? And please would I send a pic?

I spent some time working through this form yesterday, with the input of my agent this time (a luxury I haven't had before). As a former journalist, this really doesn't daunt me and I am happy to be involved in this part of the process. But I am very aware that there are some writers who find this terrifying. To you, I can only say sorry, because you will need to get over yourself.

There are others who just think that somehow, the publisher should take care of all of this for you, without you having to worry your artistic little brain about it. Only... even if they do a lot of marketing, they'll still need information to work with, as they can't know all about you by osmosis. And actually - isn't it better to have a level of control and input into how you and your work are publicised?

Please don't say the words 'Elena Ferrante' at this point, unless you want me to put my head in my hands. Just as JK Rowling is the exception when it comes to author earnings, so Ferrante is the exception when it comes to being widely read without having any kind of public profile. The rest of us lesser mortals will not get away with this anonymity (and actually, as a journalist, I find it deeply annoying and up-your-own-a**e to expect it). Even if you think it's a wonderful approach, Ferrante's trick is only interesting once and now it's been done.

So, as a new writer, be ready for this: the post-contract marketing proforma. Have some thoughts to help your publisher along. Get a photo you are reasonably happy with. And be prepared to help muster up some interest. These days, publicity is part of the writer's role, along with the production of the content, so please don't berate your publisher. After all, they're trying to sell your books, not ruin your life. And actually - if you allow it - this part of the process can be great fun.

Trust me. I'm a journalist. And I've been there before.

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It never gets old

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Fri, August 12, 2016 18:25:35

As I intimated in my last post, there are things going on here but I haven't been at liberty to announce them in public.

And me a journalist - I know! Can you imagine how hard this has been for me, a blabbermouth by profession?

Anyway - things are almost there and today, I am delighted to say, I put pen to paper on a new publishing contract.

The sharp-eyed among you will see that the title of the new book is The Misper. For anyone who hasn't heard this expression, it's police-speak for a missing person.

This is the work that's taken the huge amount of editing and inspired a series of very grumpy posts about how much I hate this part of the writing process. But what I also know is that it's all worth it, if in the end, it makes the manuscript good enough to be accepted by a publisher.

One of the many myths about writing is that it flows out of the creative brain and lands perfectly formed on the page. Not so. There are a million famous quotes by established authors on this subject.

You can't get more explicit than Hemingway's "The first draft of anything is shit."

Perhaps equally famous is Stephen King's "“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

And Colette, from 1964: "“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his [sic] own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

Not all writers can bear the process of editing to please a publisher. But while I don't enjoy the process, the rewards outweigh the pain for me.

Two or three friends have asked, as this is my fifth commercial publishing contract, whether it feels any less exciting this time around. The answer is no: it still feels fantastic and I can't wait to go through all the best bits again, from the first proof copy to seeing the cover to holding the first printed books in my hand. And getting responses from readers, which is genuinely uplifting. All that stuff never gets old, I promise.

More to come very soon on The Misper, I promise. I am off to celebrate. And if you are an aspiring writer and you're gnashing your teeth, then listen up: I'm no one special, but I am persistent. And this is not a zero sum game. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you. Keep writing.

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Radio silence

Creative WritingPosted by Barbara Sat, July 23, 2016 16:31:47
I know, I have been really quiet on this blog for a while. There's a good reason, honestly. I am inching towards signing a new publishing contract, but it's all taking longer than expected and I can't really say anything until it's all formalised.
But I promise that things are going on behind the scenes... and I will post my news here as soon as possible.
Thanks for the patience - bear with.

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