Sunday, 29 August 2010

Twitter Problems and News

They say problems usually come in threes, or when we have two do we look for another? I think the latter is probably more accurate.

I have three frustrating problems at the moment, and if anyone knows of suitable solutions I would be immensely grateful.

Firstly, even though I still don't really understand Twitter, I thought it would be wise to register an account with my name for when I'm promoting my first novel (Cough, cough). Except, I can't. Someone has taken 'elliegarratt'. Of course they are more than likely called Ellie Garratt, so they haven't really 'taken it'. But what do I use as my Twitter name now? Any suggestions?

Secondly, since my laptop received a new hard drive, and the software was reinstalled, the cursor hops around when I'm typing. I'm in the middle of typing a word, and then it has gone back a sentence or two. Why? It's testing my patience, I can tell you.

Thirdly, blogger won’t allow me to follow any sites. I click on the follow link, as I’ve always done, and it comes up with a ‘http 400’ error. It’s been like this for two days now. Aggh.

Changing the subject to something more positive, I have some exciting news. On Wednesday the Editor-in-Chief of Pill Hill Press, Jessy Marie Roberts, will be a guest on my blog. She kindly submitted herself for a small question and answer session, and I'll be posting her responses on Wednesday.

Have a lovely bank holiday weekend.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Saturday Short Story

This is short story is light and fluffy compared to what I usually write, but I enjoyed writing something with an element of humour. I thought I would share it with you. Click on the link at the end to continue reading. Enjoy.

A Date With The Future

July 2010

If you had told Carlie a year ago that in less than a year she would have to choose between three possible husbands, she would have laughed hysterically, such was the black hole of her love life. Now, nearly a year later, Carlie wished she had a crystal ball that would allow her to see a few years into the future – anything that would make the job of choosing how to start the rest of her life easier. If only . . .

June 2012

Carlie wiped a greasy hand over her blue-denim overall - there was no point worrying about trying to get it off in the wash; engine oil was impossible to remove – and then picked up their wedding photo. Darren had seemed impossibly handsome that day. Everyone had commented on how well he cleaned up, which was quite a compliment considering he spent most of his time underneath cars.

After their first dance, Darren had taken her to one side and promised her he wouldn’t be a car mechanic forever. He’d told her he was going places, and when he got there, he’d provide her with everything she’d ever desired.

She sighed as she put the photograph down and looked at the list of jobs he’d left her: oil change on the Renault; new radiator hose on the Mini; and a new exhaust for the Capri. Why hadn’t she argued more with Darren when he came in from the garage-turned-workshop one night last September and told her he couldn’t cope by himself? Why had she given up her cushy job as a PA to become his sidekick mechanic? And why hadn’t she been more surprised when Darren announced they would have to put raising a family on hold whilst he went back to college to qualify for the dream job and life he’d promised her, leaving her as the main breadwinner? What if she . . .

Click here to read on.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Shatnerquake - A Review

William Shatner? William Shatner? WILLIAM SHATNER!!! Sorry. I saw that on Amazon and had to do it too.

As promised, here is my unbiased (cough, cough) review of Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk. I did try to be as impartial as possible, but given this book features one of my all time heroes there wasn’t too much chance of that.

Shatnerquake was my first foray into Bizarro Fiction, and after glancing through other Bizarro titles listed in the back of the book (Sex and Death In Television Town and War Sluts, to name two), I realised that this book was probably going to be quite tame compared to the others. And it was, if you discounted the odd swear word and that nearly everyone dies, most of them horribly.

The concept – a fiction bomb at a ShatnerCon brings to life all the characters William Shatner has ever played, and they are intent on killing the real William Shatner – was pure genius. It elicited one of those ‘Why can’t I have an idea that brilliant?’ moments. Picture if you can, Kirk with a lightsaber, Denny Crane being, well, Denny Crane, and William Shatner being his usual egotistical self, and you begin to get an idea of the story. There is a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers.

The book was hilarious, and I laughed out loud on several occasions. But novella is probably the more accurate word to describe it. At 83 pages, it is short; I was able to comfortably read it in one sitting. And I would have liked to seen more characterisation with some of the William Shatners - a few of them were only mentioned fleetingly. That being said, if you are a Star Trek or William Shatner fan you will love this book. As a writer of short fiction, I know length isn’t everything!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

My First Novel

After reading Talli Roland's My Rejection Love Affair blog post, I started reminiscing about my first novel, Hear On Earth (formerly entitled All Systems Go). I should say at this point that I've never finished or submitted a novel; only three and a half chapters of Hear On Earth were written. But the important thing is that it was my first attempt at writing a novel.

Hear On Earth was a science fiction novel, based on an idea I'd had in my late teens. I won't go into too much detail about the plot and characters, other than to say that there were two main protagonists, one from present day Earth, and the other from another world and the not to distant future. They start off unaware of each other, but by the fourth chapter their lives start to converge through a series of disastrous events.

When I think back about Hear On Earth, three things strike me. Firstly, it has been 14 years since I wrote those three and a half chapters. The LSO and I didn’t own a computer, but were fortunate to end up babysitting a PC whilst friends of ours spent four months travelling. The PC was rented (they were too expensive to buy then), and everything was saved to floppy discs (if you were lucky, you maybe got a chapter on one disc!). I was 24 and full of such enthusiasm, but at the same time I was absolutely sure that what I'd written was nowhere near good enough, and this scared me enough to stop writing. I gave up.

Secondly, I no longer have it. In a fit of temper, I threw the manuscript and the floppy discs away. I can't believe I did that. It is one of my biggest regrets, because I’d love to be able to look back on my writing as it was then and compare it to now. Unfortunately, that will never happen.

Thirdly, although I don’t have the original version, I’ve come to realise in the last few days that I still remember those chapters as if it were yesterday. If I had to write it today, I could. I can recall character, place, and chapter names. I can recall each scene, each chapter. It is as if the very process of committing those words to paper years ago has etched it into my memory, forever. Of course, if I sat down to re-write it now it would end up being radically different. I’ve learnt enough in the last 18 months to know that much would need to be changed.

I am seriously considering starting Hear On Earth again – I have such bittersweet memories of it, and I feel that it would be like coming full circle with my writing – but I can’t decide if it is a good idea or not. What do you think?

Do you remember stories you wrote many years ago with such clarity? Have you experienced the same feelings as I about wanting to complete an unfinished project? Is there a dusty manuscript or disc sat in the draw waiting to be finished or do you just keep them as a reminder of what might have been?

Friday, 20 August 2010

Social Media - A Good or Bad Thing?

Are technological advances in media and communication a good or bad thing?

A recent study by Ofcom (the British communications regulator) showed that on average Britons spend seven hours and five minutes a day on media and communications. This figure includes such technology as mobiles, televisions, and computers. Furthermore, we are getting better at multitasking whilst using such technology. We can be watching the TV, whilst browsing Facebook, and receiving and sending text messages.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the effects of such technological advancements on society. Where will it end? How 'interfaced' will we become? Personally, I don't have a Facebook account. I have my laptop, blog, and mobile. Often I will turn my mobile off whilst writing, and I try not to have it in the room whilst we are watching the television. How about you? Would you feel lost without Facebook, Twitter, or your blog? What about your mobile or television? Your ipod or iphone? Your internet connection?

I was quite shocked by how lost I felt without my laptop and, for a day, my internet connection. I felt isolated, even though I was surrounded by friends and family. As technology advances, will we increasingly live our lives online or via our mobiles? What effect will this have on the way younger generations perceive social relationships? Will they lose valuable social skills?

At work yesterday, a colleague made a comment that highlighted one of the concerns I have about social networking sights, such Facebook. I've changed the name, to save any embarrassment.

"I find it quite odd that Fred will speak to me via Facebook, but then ignore me at work. He'll ask how I am and what I'm up to online, but then at work he'll just say hello and turn away and carry on working. He wasn't like that before Facebook."

I find this type of comment worrying, especially as recently a psychologist being interviewed on the news stated that in some younger people there is almost the perception that unless something is on Facebook it hasn't really happened. Is my concern an overreaction? Maybe. What do you think? Here are a couple of quotes to mull over:

'Technology... the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.' Max Frisch

'The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.' Sydney J. Harris

(You'll be pleased to know that my laptop is back, albeit with a new hard drive and £120 dent in my pocket!)

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A Quick Update

I'm still awaiting the verdict on my laptop, but thanks to my step-son, the desktop is now working at an acceptable speed. I don't know exactly what he did, but it now only takes a couple of seconds to load a web page!

I can't wait to finish work and then catch up with all your blogs. It's only been a few days, but it has felt like I was missing a limb.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Laptop Speaks (Part 2)

I'm not a superstitious person. When I realised it was Friday 13th yesterday, I wasn't concerned. Never have been.

I used my laptop in the morning. I went to work. Whilst at work I had an accident that involved a box hitting my nose, which put an end to my 'no bruises by the time of the family wedding' strategy. Another member of staff hit her head with a door. Did these things freak me out? No.

Someone I used to work with, and I haven't seen for a few years, came in shopping. This is very important, because he is a computer whiz. Was this an omen? Maybe. Do I know his number? No.

When I got home from work, the LSO complained that the desktop computer was very slow. Given that the desktop is also known as the monolith or 'I'll-take-at-least-thirty-seconds-to-load-up-a-page-and-then-crash', for the LSO to say it was slow, meant it was probably faster watching paint dry. "No problem," I said. "I'll get my laptop." Fatal words. When I turned on the laptop, a blue screen and lots of technical jargon appeared. At the end it said, "Starting dump of physical core" and "Physical core dumped". Can I do anything with it? No.

So, two days after allowing my laptop to 'takeover my blog' and on Friday 13th, it went kamikaze on me. The LSO is under instructions to take my beautiful, fabulous, close friend to the computer shop on Monday. I shall pray it is recoverable. I am thankful for two things: I'm OCD about saving my work and I have a contingent laptop fund. Not quite all the money I'd need, but a good chunk. I hope I don't have to buy a new one, but I cannot be without a laptop.

In the meantime, I'll be on the desktop computer. But given it is ridiculously slow, please don't be offended if I'm not reading your wonderful blogs in the next few days. And on top of that, I'm working extra hours from Monday, and have a family wedding at the weekend.

Please send happy thoughts to my laptop, if you believe in that sort of thing!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Laptop Speaks

Hello my electronic friends, Ellie's laptop here. Due 'the writer' forgetting her laptop password, I'm standing in for her today. It couldn't be better timing, as Sally Quilford’s computer is holding a blog takeover day. Whilst I'm in charge I'm going to set a few things straight about 'the writer'.

Firstly, contrary to whatever 'the writer' says, it's really me who does the writing. You don't think those words appear on a blank document because of her, do you? No. It might look like she is pressing those keys to form words, but all she's doing is randomly tapping them. It makes her look clever, I suppose.

Secondly, why does 'the writer' have to press the save button so often? Why is she constantly backing up 'her' work? Doesn't she trust me? Okay, so there was that time I got a virus and had to be taken back to factory settings. But it wasn't bad enough that I'd caught a bug, now she has to constantly remind me of it.

Thirdly, 'the writer' might think it is fun scouring Google images for her blog posts, but I don't. Boring. Boring. Boring. I'd rather be looking for a new friend, preferably a Dell Inspiron laptop in neon pink. Hot. Hot. Hot.

Fourthly, and this might seem petty, but is it too much to expect to be dusted or cleaned occasionally? Sadly, it seems the answer is yes. Whilst we are on this subject, don't under any circumstances try to hoover the dust from your laptop's keypad. Sadly, 'the writer's' HP laptop was the never same. Someone should have reported her.

This is getting tedious now. I’ve got to get back to the story I’m writing for ‘the writer’. Rather good it is, if I might say so; it’s about a laptop that realises it is a literary genius, but has to work for it’s cruel stepmother and ugly sisters.

(Before you all think I’ve gone mad, pop over to Sally Quilford’s blog to read about Blog Takeover Day!)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Spot the obvious errors

Despite following a vigorous routine to weed out any spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes, occasionally they still pass unnoticed into one of my submissions. Yesterday, whilst filing a print copy of a short story I'd submitted on Sunday, I had one of those 'and-you-call-yourself-a-writer' moments. Read the following and spot the obvious errors:

“My name is Bill Delaney and on Tuesdays I’m a Kleptomaniac. On Thursdays I’m delusional. On Friday's I’m a werewolf. On Saturday's I have homicidal tendencies. Well actually I have those tendencies on a Friday, but-”

Aggh! Am I the only one who misses these kinds of errors after the final proofread? Or, is it this type of mistake that explains why an author has unending praise for their editor?

Coincidentally, today's Strictly Writing post asks whether the art of editing is dying. Read the post to find out one author's conclusion.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Tiny Weeny Writing Competitions

Aliens landed; I stayed in bed. That was one of my attempts for the Arvon Six Word Story challenge; speculative fiction, as always.

I love writing flash or tiny weeny fiction. Have you considered such short fiction, where the challenge is to write a story with only a few words or characters? (I know a lot of you have, because I've read your superb entries for Microfiction Monday). Tiny weeny fiction is certainly tricky, but also immense fun. I've listed a few competitions to try to entice you to give it a go.

Arvon's Six Word Story challenge. Visit their website for featured entries and six word stories from famous writers. Entries must be submitted by 1st September 2010.

Dirty Dozen. This is for stories of 12 words (plus one for the title) and, as they put it, "They have to be somewhat risqué, but not X-rated." Click on the Dirty Dozen picture to get more information (for some reason the side links are not working correctly at the moment). Thanks to Becky for this link, who has also been shortlisted twice.
Leaf Books Tiny Weeny Writing and Drawing Competition. Send in a short short story, poem, playlet, or even your best tweet - so long as it is no longer than 140 characters, including punctuation and spaces. Competition closes on the 31st October 2010.
Six-Word Memoirs. Sign up for an account and post your six-word memoirs. Several stories are featured every two or three days, and you may be chosen to appear in one of their publications. I don't know too much about this site, but they seem to have several on-going book projects. (Text Lit), is a monthly text short story competition. Entries must be no more than 154 characters and must be submitted by the last day of the month. There is a different theme each month, and August's theme is crime. Txt Lit is open to mobile users with a UK network provider.

This last one is not a competition, but I could not do a post about tiny weeny writing without mentioning it:

Microfiction Monday. Every Monday Susan at Stony River host a 140 character writing challenge. Your inspiration is a picture posted at the end of the last week's challenge, and all you have to do is create a post for your entry and place a link to that post on her blog. Easy and great fun.

I'm sure there are lots more out there. I would love to know about any you have found or entered.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Top Ten Procrastination Devices

After reading about Old Kitty's problems with Bob the telephone, I started thinking about all the artificial devices around my home that cause me to procrastinate. Here they are:

The Telephone. Occasionally, when I'm writing a masterpiece, it makes this loud ringing noise and I have to pick it up. Generally, I then spend 45 minutes talking to someone about nothing.

The Mobile. Whoever invented chain text messaging should be shot. If you send this to ten other people and get ten back, you know you are loved. Stop sending them. I won't pass them on!

The Television. It sits on the wall at the end of my bed and every morning it tells me to watch it. Just another 15 minutes. Go on, you know you want to.

The DVD Player Hard Drive. I can't stop series-linking Project Runway. It's an addiction.

The Radio. I should be working on a short story, but Graham Norton is covering Chris Evan's holiday, and then Ken Bruce is on at 9.30.

The Internet. I don't think I need to say anymore than that.

Clocks. They are constantly telling me there isn't enough time, and I believe them.

The Doorbell. Isn't it amazing how you can suddenly find something interesting to talk about to the postman or neighbour?

The Kettle. I don't blame coffee; I blame the kettle, which makes making a cup of coffee too easy.

Hair Straighteners. I remember when it didn't matter that my hair was curly and frizzy, or generally having a Kate Bush moment. Now, I have to spend 15 minutes straightening my hair into a sleek bob before I can do anything else.

Do you have the same problems as me? What devices in your home cause you to procratinate?

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Seduced By A Book Cover

“You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” How many times have we heard that statement? The fact is that when it comes to a book by an author I haven’t read before, along with the genre, cover blurb, and the first few lines, the cover does play a part in my decision whether to read it. I have bought a book based on the cover art. I hold my hands up – a books cover can seduce me.

But I’ve realised recently that it can also play a part in which anthologies I choose to submit stories to. Not all of them; I wouldn’t go as far as to not submit to a publication just because I didn’t like the cover. Other factors are more important, such as the publisher and editor history and whether I want to write in that particular genre. Still, when Pill Hill Press posted the details for a new anthology, entitled 2013: The Aftermath, and I saw the cover art on their forum, I was blown away. I had to get into that anthology, and last week I was thrilled when my short short story, Hometown, was accepted.

What do you think of the cover art? I think it’s spectacular.

Is cover art a factor when you purchase a book? Does it depend on whether you are reading a new author or not? Cover art doesn't alter my decision to buy a book from an author I've read before; I already know I enjoyed that writer's work.

Has cover art affected your decision as to whether to submit a story to a publication? Is it wrong to let cover art become a factor in our decisions, or does it teach us how important a book's cover is? If you chose to go down the self-publishing route, how much will you pay to get it right? If a publisher offers you a book deal, how much say do you get over to the final cover anyway?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Writing A Short Story

Last week, someone asked me where I get my ideas from and how I go about writing a short story. Like most writers, I think, I’m always fascinated to read how other writers find ideas and how they write. So, even though the person who asked me was not a writer, I spoke briefly about the creative processes I use. In an effort to give back, as most well known writers have in magazine articles, or during talks, I thought I’d talk about the processes I use.

Where do I get ideas?

This is probably the most common question non-writers ask me. I tell them anywhere and everywhere. I get ideas from newspapers, magazine articles, letter pages, photographs, television programmes, snippets of conversation, the deep recesses of my mind, and numerous other places – anything that triggers a what-if question. What if Zombies shopped in supermarkets? What if a woman decides to buy vampire insurance to claim the £1 million payout?

Occasionally, an idea will come to me and I’ll write the story with no target market in mind. However, most of the time I’m writing for a particular publication, and will have been ‘looking’ for a story idea for a few days, or even weeks. For example, I spent a couple of weeks looking for an idea for Pill Hill Press’s Fem-Fangs anthology. I’d never written a vampire story before, and wanted to avoid the girl-meets-boy-vampire love story. It wasn’t until I was reading a national newspaper’s ‘ten things you never knew about vampires’, that I came across this fact: In 1999 in the US, 907 people took out insurance against turning into vampires or werewolves. Bingo. There was the seed for a story. Although the final story turned out to be so much more than a woman trying to commit fraud, the ‘seed’ was what started the creative process.

How do I write a short story?

From the original spark of an idea to the finished manuscript, I go through several stages:

1. I let the idea gestate in my mind, until I’ve worked out which viewpoint the story will use, how many characters there will be, and most of the plot. I like to have a beginning and most of the middle. Sometimes I might know the ending, but often that changes by the time the first draft is completed. I’m never concerned if I don’t have all the middle and an ending.

2. After I’ve played the idea in my head a few times, like a movie, I write a partial draft by hand. There is something about writing by hand that stops me from constantly stopping and re-writing, thus speeding up the story writing process. I always write on every other line, so that I can correct or alter words and sentences after it is written. Again, I do not need to have the whole story.

On a separate note, I’m often asked where I find characters names. I’m not sure how it happens, but for most stories the characters name themselves. I know that probably sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’ve just started writing a story, and I knew immediately the characters would be called Angus, Giles, and Cookie. However, if I’m writing a more unusual story, I do turn to the web for inspiration. For my vampire story, I browsed several gothic name generators!

3. Once the partial draft is written, I type it up on Word. How long it then takes me to finish a complete first draft varies from story to story. It could take a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks. Generally, it takes me two or three days. I then print off the first draft and put it away for a while. Ideally, this should be at least a week.

4. After a few days have passed, I take out manuscript and re-read it with fresh eyes. I make notes and corrections in red pen. Because I stood back from the story for a while, it is at this stage I can tell what is or is not working, and what the story is lacking. Does the beginning start at the moment of crisis? Is there enough description? Are all the senses employed? Does the dialogue move the story forward? Does it make sense? Is the crisis resolved? Is the ending satisfying? It is as this stage that I cut out what isn’t working, and sometimes radically re-plot the story. I make all the corrections and alterations on Word.

5. After I’m happy with the second draft, I read it through aloud. This helps with the dialogue, and awkward sentences. Again, I make corrections where necessary.

6. I re-print the manuscript and go through it like a primary school teacher, looking for any spelling or grammatical errors. I tend to read it like a young reader might, word by word.

7. Finally, once I am one hundred percent happy with it, I will submit the story and pray the editor likes it.

There is one other stage that is worth mentioning, which happens after a story is accepted. Once I’ve received the proof to check over, or the published book, I always make a note of any editorial changes. Despite several re-reads and edits, it is still possible to miss mistakes, or to even be making a grammatical error you were not aware of. This stage is also especially helpful if you are writing for a foreign market, for example America, where different spellings are used.

So, that is how I write a short story. I hope you found it interesting, and maybe helpful!