Showing posts with label creative writing courses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label creative writing courses. Show all posts

Friday, 4 January 2013

Hard Copy is published as an ebook

The world was a different place when my first novel, Hard Copy, was published back in 1998. The internet was in its infancy, my laptop was the size of a sewing machine and when I sent an email I had to follow dial-up instructions running to two sides of A4 paper. Even then I rarely succeeded.

I began writing the book when I enrolled on Manchester University’s MA in novel writing. The course was the first to focus on novels rather than creative writing (as UEA did) and along with future luminaries like Sophie Hannah and Sam Bain I was one of the very first intake.

Once I’d completed my degree I turned the 50,000 words I’d written into a full-length novel. I made photographer Anna Armitage the lead character and changed the name of my cynical hack (who I’m secretly rather fond of) from Sam Rutter to Sam Turner.

Hard Copy was published in hardback and paperback and did reasonably well at the time, but there’s never been an ebook version. Until now, that is. The novel has been given a stylish new cover and published this week by Piatkus Entice.

So what is it about? Well, it’s the story of Anna, a 20-something who’s determined to reach the top as a Fleet Street photographer. But when she teams up with former high-flying reporter Sam Turner they miss the big story and a rival newspaper gets the scoop instead. They’re determined to save their careers though and together they battle against megalomaniac proprietors and ruthless news editors to prove themselves once more.

The Daily Mirror called it “fast and furious,” while the Belfast Telegraph declared that “if you enjoy pace, dialogue and a glimpse of life behind the headlines, you’ll love this.” I just hope new readers agree.

Hard Copy by Emma Lee-Potter (Piatkus, £3.99)

Saturday, 15 October 2011

How to write a plot - novelist MJ Hyland's advice

A staggering 150,000 books were published in the UK last year – yet thousands of us yearn to add even more to the pile.

Writing’s a long, hard, solitary business so I’m always looking for ways to escape my office. On a sunny autumn morning I came up with the perfect plan and drove 40 miles through the stunning Cotswolds countryside to attend a Writing a Good Plot workshop at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Tickets to the three-hour event cost a hefty £25 but the session was so stuffed with good advice I reckon it’s the best money I’ve spent in a long time.

The 30 or so of us who’d signed up were an eclectic bunch, ranging from a showbiz agent to a couple of education publishers to a young A level student. Some had written novels, short stories and poetry galore, while others were just thinking about getting started.

The workshop was run by MJ (Maria) Hyland, who’s no slouch in the novel-writing stakes herself. The author of three novels – her second, Carry Me Down, was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker prize – she also teaches at the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University. I’m deadly envious because she’s got the next-door office to one of my all-time favourite writers, Colm Tóibin. If you haven’t read Brooklyn yet by the way, you’re in for a treat.

Sitting cross-legged on a chair at the front of the class, Hyland deftly led us through her tried and tested ways to plot a novel. She offered such constructive, achievable advice, particularly for procrastinators like me, that I scribbled page after page of notes. Here are some of her tips for writing that tricky first draft:

1. Turn the internet off and put a sign on the door saying “go away, I’m writing.”

2. Write as though no one will ever read it. “The best writing I have ever done is when I forget the world and forget that it’s ever going to be read,” said Hyland. “I am just sitting and telling a fictional truth.”

3. If you can bear it, try writing the first draft with a pen. Writers often faff about choosing fonts that look pretty, changing margin widths and looking at word counts. If you do use a computer, said Hyland, “choose an ugly font. Then you’ll see what’s really on the page.”

4. Begin each writing session without looking at what you wrote last time. “Don’t get bogged down by what came before.”

5. “Don’t think about the 100,000 words you’re writing. Write your novel scene by scene. Make it work as a moment of drama and move the characters through the drama scene by scene.”

6. Most writers begin with an idea that obsesses them. “It’s got to be something that you care about, something that fascinates you and will fascinate you for a long time to come.”

7. The three main components of a plot are conflict, setting and characters – although interestingly, Hyland pointed out that sometimes the setting of a book may be so strong “that it takes care of the plot.”

8. The plot must be controlled and tight. “Don’t go on about anything that doesn’t feed the story,” said Hyland. “Make sure stuff needs to be there. Avoid summarising – ask yourself how information can be enacted or shown on the page in the moment.”

9. Lots of us assume that the plot is of a novel comprises a series of events but Hyland declared a plot can be built on themes – for example, loyalty, breach of loyalty, unfaithfulness or a search for the holy grail.

10. If you’re stuck it’s a good idea to read lots of non-fiction. As Hyland said: “There’s no better place for ideas.”

PS: There's a brilliant interview with musician Noel Gallagher in today's Times. It relates how he was watching TV earlier this year when his long-term girlfriend (and mother of two of his three children) Sara MacDonald said to him: "Just so you know, I'm not getting married when I'm past 40." Gallagher glanced up and asked: "How old are you now?"

PPS: In fact MacDonald was 39 and a few months, and they duly married this summer. As Gallagher added: "... you can't keep introducing your other half as 'the girlfriend' when you get to Rod Stewart's age."

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Creative writing courses - is there any point in doing one?

Creative writing courses have sprung up all over the place over the last 20 years. I still can’t quite believe this but apparently there are a mind-boggling 10,000 short creative writing courses and classes currently on offer in the UK.

Lots of people sneer at the notion that creative writing can be taught but I totally disagree. I was one of the first batch of students to do Manchester University’s MA in novel writing 18 years ago and it inspired me from start to finish. Launched by novelist and academic Richard Francis and Michael Schmidt, the founder and editorial director of Carcanet Press, it gave me the time, space and confidence to write Hard Copy, my first novel. It also encouraged me to study writers I would never have read in a million years otherwise - Ismail Kadare and José Saramago for starters.

Richard, who's had ten novels published, has always been a firm advocate of creative writing courses and was professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University till 2009. “You may not be able to teach people to write,” he once said, “but you can take people who are capable of writing and provide them with the space and structure within which they have to write.”

It was certainly true of my intake. We were a very eclectic lot, some producing literary fiction, a couple dreaming up hard-bitten thrillers, one working on a comic novel about a game-show hostess and one (me!) writing about a Fleet Street hack whose career was on the slide. Each week we read and commented on each other’s work, making suggestions and encouraging our fellow writers along the way.

The upshot was that out of the 12-strong group, at least five became published writers. The most successful is the highly acclaimed Sophie Hannah, who’s not only a brilliant poet but has also written a string of bestselling psychological thrillers. Meanwhile TV scriptwriter Sam Bain has a list of credits as long as his arm (including Channel 4’s Peep Show) and Anna Davis, the author of five novels, is now director and tutor of Curtis Brown Creative, the first literary agency to run its own creative writing courses.

So if you’re an aspiring author who’s thinking of doing a creative writing course my advice is: ignore the cynics and get that application form off in double-quick time.

PS: I've decided that the washing line at the House With No Name (above) is the most scenic in the world. Hanging washing out is the dreariest chore but over the last two weeks I've done it with a spring in my step. As I pegged basket-loads of laundry on the line I stood in the sun and gazed across at this amazing view. Blissful.

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