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Friday, September 28, 2012

Inspiration that was the Paralympics

by Aileen Kennedy

Whilst I knew that the Olympics would be fascinating to watch, I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the sport. I’m not a sporty girl, unless it has an engine and can go above 100mph.  Usually a couple of hours are all I can usually muster to watch any other sport, and if it’s on daily then I lose interest real easily. During the Olympics I was selective on the sports I watched. So I thought when the Paralympics came around that I might give channel 4 a passing glance, as I would be sported out by then. I was wrong, whilst the constant breaks were annoying as hell. I found myself fascinated by some of the sports, wheelchair rugby aka murderball, the visually impaired long jump, wheelchair racing, and even wheelchair tennis. Now don’t get me wrong, all the athletes are absolutely fantastic at what they do, I for one certainly couldn’t do it. It certainly showed off their ability.
 
So what does the Paralympics have to do with writing? Can you name me one book, which has a disabled lead character? No, didn’t think so.
 
Now there are children’s books, but nothing in young adults, new adults, or even adult reading books, without having to really dig for any, and I mean really dig. Why is this? Without looking into details, I can’t say the percentage of the world-disabled population. But I would have thought that a writer somewhere would have written a disabled character as a main character. Ok so there’s Bran in A Game of Thrones, and as I haven’t finished reading it I can’t say where George R Martin is leading with him. But Bran does seem to be taking a backstage in the epic novel so far, but he is not the main or the lead character in the book, just someone in the setting. Am I lead to believe that in the 21st Century, the disabled community is still being overlooked, surely these people will have fantastic stories that could be used as a plot line. Are we as a 21st Century society still hold that much ignorance of disability that we look down our noses at them? I would hate for that to be true.
 
So just where am I going with this? Whilst it can’t take one person to change the views of millions of people, and there are many ignorant people, who are unwilling to change in this world. The media does have a part to play; just look at the amount of coverage Channel 4 has given to the Paralympics. It’s been rumoured that the BBC wasn’t going to show half the amount that Channel 4 had planned when they put their bid in, and they’ve even upped the coverage after a couple of days. It seems a lot of people are interested in disabled sports.  So why aren’t there any leading disabled characters. Surely a writer can come up with a fantastic story, which can help change the view of one person.
 
I have to hold my hands up to say that out of all the rough stories I’ve written I haven’t written a character which has a disability, but then I could say that the stories themselves never called for one. But I doubt that is a good enough excuse; surely one can fit in somewhere and have a leading part. Hopefully now that I’ve realised this, I can place somewhere or write a story around a character. It would be nice.
 
Anyway that’s my small rant over with. Regardless of my opinions the Paralympics were exceptional show of sportsmanship, which showed off everyone’s abilities at the highest level. I for one will be keeping my eye out for Rio’s paralympics, and nation-wide disabled sports. As I’ve certainly enjoyed these Paralympics, alongside the Olympics. Even if I did get confused as hell regarding the different classifications, though I understand that it’s in place to ensure a level playing field.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Less Is More

by Kevin Cunnah

Cut!

The thing that all writers dread – having to reduce wordcount! I mean,
all those words, your carefully crafted words that convey a specific
nuance of meaning or emotion are there for a purpose, right? Taking
out even one of them is going to destroy the integrity of your piece
or mar it irreparably.

It doesn’t matter if the target wordcount is set at five thousand and
you’re at five and a half or it’s set at five hundred and you’re at
five hundred and fifty. It doesn’t matter if your editor asks you
really nicely and explains why the cuts have to be made – they just
don’t understand. How can they? This is your baby, your creation, in
all its glorious perfection.

Taking a knife to it is unthinkable.

Well, it is, isn’t it?

About six months ago I wrote a bunch of short stories for competition.
The wordcounts varied between a thousand and five thousand words and I
tried out a number of styles – it was one of those halcyon times when
the ideas just flowed. The stories were all written fairly quickly but
I edited them thoroughly (I thought), I had most of them beta read and
I edited them again before submission. I was pretty pleased with them
as one by one I sent them off.

And that was the last I heard.

Recently I went back and re-read them and you know what? They weren’t
bad at all (he says modestly). I thought they compared favourably with
the previous winning entries that I’d researched. Clearly the judges
of all those competitions had no taste.

Then I was stuck for a flash fiction piece for the group. Inspiration
had packed up and taken a vacation. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I could do
something with one of the competition pieces? One of them definitely
called to me. But it was just over fifteen hundred words long and my
target wordcount was eight hundred and fifty words, even with a ten
per cent overspill that only gave me nine hundred and thirty five
words to play with. Could I possibly shrink the story by thirty per
cent without ruining it?

Answer: yes.

It’s amazing the difference a few month’s perspective makes. That and
a ruthless evaluation of each word did the trick. If the word didn’t
advance the story it was out.

You know what? That story is now much tighter and more punchy and has
gained rather than lost from the pretty drastic reduction in
wordcount. Six months ago I would never have believed it and would
have argued (and from memory did) against changing or removing one
more word from the version I submitted. Now I have to admit I was
wrong.

I find flash fiction is a great discipline for the aspiring writer –
it forces you to consider the value of every last word rather than
measuring success by reaching wordcounts in the tens of thousands or
more. Clearly you need to write eighty or a hundred thousand words and
upwards to complete the average novel – but it’s always worthwhile,
having produced all those words in the right order, considering if
they are all really necessary.

Sometimes - and I suspect more frequently than most of us would like
to admit – less is more…

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paralympic Writing

by Hellen Riebold

For some time now I have wanted to write a blog exploring the dichotomy of being a dyslexic writer; a subject dear to my heart, as anyone who’s ever tried to decipher one of my Christmas cards will tell you.
 
I have always told stories. As a child I would make up vivid tales about being a school prefect at the junior school which were so plausible my sister, who is five years younger than me, was devastated when she arrived there herself to discover the ‘government bunker’ on the roof was merely a skylight into the hall.
 
As I got older the story telling took on a more destructive form and I was perennially in trouble for telling lies until one day, in my first year at senior school, Mrs Wright, my English teacher, kept me behind after class.
 
“Hellen,” she said, to start a sentence I have never forgotten, “you are a great story-teller. If you write the stories down as fiction instead of telling them as lies you’ll get on much better in life.”
 
I took that advice to heart. I wrote endlessly, making book after book from any scraps of paper I could beg from my Dad.
 
But that’s when the dyslexia really started to cripple me.  My writing speed was so slow that often my brain raced ahead as I panted along behind, desperately trying to hold on to an eel of an idea whilst endlessly tripping over simple words.
 
My Mum, seeing my struggle with the pen, did something I hated at the time but which I now consider as the greatest act of kindness I have ever encountered, at age 13 she sent me to evening classes to learn how to type. It didn’t help with my spelling but it did free me from the pen and my typing speed very quickly overtook my writing speed much like a leopard would overtake a snail.
 
I now had a hope of keeping up with my ideas but even though I became a dab hand with the Tipex my work was littered with spelling mistakes and gobbledegook . My typing teacher, who thought she was preparing me for office life, used to shout at me endlessly to check the spelling if a word looked wrong and I endlessly assured her I would just as soon as one did. We did not get on still, somehow, I passed the exams and my typing speed eventually caught up with my brain but I still couldn’t spell so I knew I’d never be a real writer.
 
Then came a little miracle. Well a pretty big one really. Someone invented the PC and Bill Gates wrote a programme that checked your spelling as you typed, put a little red wiggly line under the offending word and even helped you to find out what it should really look like. I was released! I saved and saved and saved until one of these little miracles could finally come home with me. Now I can write to my heart’s content secure in the knowledge that eventually people will be able to read what I’ve written and only laugh if they’re meant to.
 
I love writing, it gives me huge pleasure and it is something I know I can do. I do wonder, however, how many other writers there are out there with J R R Tolkien’s imagination trapped by dyslexic hands? It’s a bit like the wonderful Paralympic athletes, they have the necessary drive, talent and determination to get the job done they just need the right equipment to show the world what they’re made of.

And a wonderful friend to fix the mistakes the spell-checker doesn't find will also help! (Though you only had 2 of those)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rejection

by Anna Buttimore

A couple of years ago a friend asked for advice on writing and publishing his book. I told him all I knew (not much) and wished him luck. And a few months ago he gleefully posted on Facebook that he was now a published author. How I rejoiced as I followed the link to his masterpiece. How my heart sank when I saw "Authorhouse" across the top bar on my screen.

I asked him, in that wheedling way of mine, "Why?" Why did he give up? Why did he fund the publication of his book himself, and forego any possibility of profit or royalties, not to mention any sense of achievement, affirmation or accomplishment?

"I got fed up with being rejected," he replied.

As much as you are warned that rejection is part and parcel of being an author, it still smarts. I'm fed up with being rejected. Emon and the Emperor has now been rejected by eighteen agents.

Agents are well aware that choosing whether or not to represent an author is entirely an arbitrary business and that they daily run the risk of turning down the next Harry Potter or Twilight, or indeed accepting the next embarrassing flop. Contrary to popular opinion they are not kicking themselves over the ones that got away.  They know that there are some great books slipping through their fingers just because they are not really in the mood for them that day. They accept that as an occupational hazard with every rejection slip they send out.

Almost all books get rejected before they are published.

·         Jonathan Livingstone Seagull was rejected 18 times and went on to sell a million copies in its first year and become a cult classic.

·         Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times but has since sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages, and spawned numerous extra versions.

·         Dubliners by James Joyce - yes, James Joyce - was rejected 22 times, and even when it was finally accepted only 1250 copies were printed.

·         After Carrie had been rejected 30 times, Stephen King threw it out. His wife retrieved it from the bin and persuaded him to keep trying. It has now become a horror classic and has been adapted for film and television.

·         Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected 12 times, and only accepted by Bloomsbury because the CEO's eight-year-old daughter read it and insisted her father publish it.

I'm fed up with being rejected. But I believe in my book. So each time I get a rejection letter - or email - I just send it to the next agent in the list. Going to Authorhouse or similar would mean I had rejected my own book.  So I'll keep welcoming each rejection as a step closer to acceptance.

This is a subject a lot of authors will know a lot about Anna. I must say though, that your facts will provide inspiration for authors waiting for that eventual acceptance letter.