Saturday 23 August 2014

No More Dilly-Dallying
That's it! I've got to get back to it, writing the novel-in-progress that is. Feeling guilty to claim I'm currently writing a novel, I've even changed my bio on Twitter to 'attempting to write my first novel'. There's something about the addition of that word 'attempting' that let's me off the hook, don't you think? Not really. I want to do this so it's up to me to get on with it!

A number of people have helped me decide not to dilly-dally any more. The first is my on-line friend Samantha Bacchus. As well as publishing a collection of short stories alongside working on her book, she finished the first draft of her novel at the end of July. Her comment on her author page 'Now the hard work begins...' acknowledges that the rest of the journey towards publication will not be easy but it brought home to me how important it is to get my story written. The only way is to get back to the novel, stop procrastinating, stop saying what I am going to do, and write!

Another author who has impressed me is someone whom I've only met recently at an event during the Candy Jar Book Festival. She's Michaela Weaver and her book 'Manic Mondays' was published in May this year. It was interesting to hear about the story of her novel through to publication. She was so encouraging to me and the other aspiring novelists who attended that I came home inspired to write my story.

Finally, it was arranging a meeting with writing buddy, Kelly, that made me realise that I had nothing new to show her since our last meeting which was back in June. I had to do something!

How did I prepare for our meeting?
- I went back to my novel file and read and re-read the chapters already written to immerse myself in the story I wanted to tell.
- I'm a planner at heart so I mapped out a linear account of all the events that would happen to the family in the story. 
- I then started compiling a grid of the novel's characters, sorting them into main, subsidiary and minor with their respective details, dates, features and traits. Already some of the dates and ages in my completed chapters didn't tally because I hadn't done this beforehand. 

When we met, Kelly and I talked about the importance of having credible characters and I found the grid is helping  me find out more about each of the characters. If we know everything there is to about our characters then what they say, how they react and what they do will be all the more believable. By next time, we're going to work on some detailed character studies. We definitely won't be putting all the information in our novels but we will know our characters very well.

The main thing that came out of the meeting is that I'm back and I'm going to write my novel. I think I'll make myself a badge like this. Please feel free to nag me too! ;-) 

On her blog 'Writing My Novel - No Working Title Yet', Teagan Kearney makes some very useful points in this post, 
Creating Characters.

What are your thoughts on creating believable characters? What do you do to get to know them 'inside out'? I'd love to hear what you think. 

Thank you for reading my blog. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

PS My story 'Defeating Dylan The Dragon' has been published by Cafe Lit to end its week which has had the theme of fantasy. I hope you will enjoy my take on a Welsh legend.

Friday 15 August 2014

Who Writes Short Shorts?
By a 'short short', I mean a short story which is no more than 1000 words long. I have written stories of 100, 300, 400 and 500 words but these have usually been for Flash Fiction competitions which have had a very tight limit. As writers, perhaps we shouldn't be concerned with word count because a story should be as long as it takes to tell the whole story. Most of my stories end up over 2000 words and lately, I seem to be favouring ones that are even longer, with around 3000 words. However, word count does matter when submitting to magazine editors and especially to competition judges where there is a set word limit. 

Over the next weeks, I'm setting myself a goal to write a 'womag' type story of around 1000 words which would fill about one page in the magazine and I'm looking for your help. As many of you know, I'm still chasing that elusive first acceptance. I'm doing my homework by reading the different magazines and trying to get a 'feel' for what the editors are looking for. What do you think are the elements of a good 'short short' story? What was the first story you had accepted in a woman's magazine? What made that one stand out from others that you had submitted?

I did find a home for two longer stories this week when I submitted them to the Candy Jar Books Short Story competition. The word limit for each story was 3000 words. 

Candy Jar Books is a publisher based in Cardiff and has been running a book festival all this week. I attended two events - 'How to be a Fibber Extraordinaire' with author, Laura Foakes, and illustrator, Emma Taylor, who were running a children's workshop based on their book, 'The Liars and Fibbers' Academy' and an adult writing workshop with Michaela Weaver about her book, 'Manic Mondays'.  It was good to meet both Laura and Michaela and hear about how they published their first books. 

Thank you for reading my blog. I'd love to read your ideas about what makes a good 1000 word story so please leave a comment. :-)

You may follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer page.


Friday 8 August 2014

The Moral of the Story
Do you find that when you write or read fiction there is often a message which underpins it? This may not be a deliberate decision on the part of the author. It may have arisen subconsciously but it's there, nonetheless. Some of you may remember me saying that many of my short stories seem to follow a recurring theme of  'moving on' where the message is that in spite of a crisis, a relationship break up or personal loss the main character tries to resolve the problem, be strong and move on. This is what happens in the story I've been editing this week. After the premature death of her mother, Alex is given her mother's diary and tracks the story she reads in there back to a Greek village. It was there where her mother spent a summer twenty years before and where her life was changed for ever. Again, I didn't ever plan to use the message of 'moving on' to support the story. It just seemed to happen.  

In contrast, the first ever writing task I was asked to do in 'Telling Tales', the short story course I attended two years ago run by Lynne Barrett-Lee, was to take a fable, a ready made story with a moral or message, and turn it into a contemporary story. The suggested list of fables and their respective messages that we came up with in class was vast. Many of us remembered  the childhood versions of Aesop's Fables taking pride of place on our bookshelves. Here, we wrote stories around the messages we wanted to convey.

The dictionary defines a fable as 'a short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral'. To me, the word 'moral' implies that the story will teach the reader something rather than just convey a message. A story I wrote recently was published on Creative Frontiers. The characters are dogs who live on a bleak Welsh Valleys estate. If you'd like to click on this link, Animal Story, and read it, why not say what you think the message of the story is? (Please don't use the title! ;-))

Thanks for reading my blog.
Have you written any animal stories? Do they have a message or moral? I'd love to hear about them. 
You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and visit my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday 4 August 2014

"The Play's the Thing"
Last week, I went with my daughter, Jo, to see 'War Horse' at The Lowry  in Manchester and what a treat that was!  As I'm sure many of you will know, it's a National Theatre production based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo. Although it premiered in 2007, it seemed fitting to be watching it in this centenary year of WW1 and even more appropriate to be writing this post today , 4th August 2014, exactly one hundred years since Britain declared war on Germany. As we watched the performance unfold, we almost forgot that the horses on stage were puppets which were so cleverly brought to life by the expertise of the puppeteers. The human cost of the war is well documented. An estimated ten million people died and we are quite rightly remembering them in numerous ceremonies around the world today. What the play did was to remind the audience that there were forgotten heroes too, the horses that accompanied the soldiers to France. In 'War Horse', Michael Morpurgo gives us an insight into what the horses experienced on the battle front. He imagined the story of one of the horses, Joey, who was sold off a Devon farm and had to leave Albert, the boy who owned him, to go to the Front to be used by the British cavalry. The poignant story was told through the horse's eyes and we saw scenes of Joey charging towards the enemy, being caught up in barbed wire and eventually being captured by the Germans. He was used to pull guns and ambulances and spent the winter on a French farm. By writing from the horse's point of view, Michael Morpurgo didn't take sides. He was able to explore the futility of war and create in his opinion, 'a story of reconciliation and reunion.' 'War Horse' is more than just about 'a war, a horse and a boy,' he says. 'It is an anthem for peace, and reflects, I think, a universal longing for a world without war.'

Steven Spielberg's film helped to familiarise people with the book but it is the success of the stage production that has contributed to making 'War Horse' a best seller. As Shakespeare said, 'The play's the thing...' Nearly five million people have now seen the play in theatres all over the world.

Is there a book that you have seen adapted as a film and/or stage play? What did you think of the adaptations?

Thank you for reading my blog and I'd love it if you left a comment. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.