Sunday 20 September 2015

Interview With Author, Angela Fish
Today, I’m delighted to be chatting to author, Angela Fish. Her debut children’s book, 'Ben and the Spider Gate' will be published on Thursday, 24th September.

Angela, welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about how you got started as a writer.
Hello Jan. Thank you for inviting me to share your page today.

I was born in Cardiff and grew up in a village called Tongwynlais. My mother read to me a lot when I was little and I was reading simple text myself by the time I was four. I’ve never lost my love of reading and can be quite greedy with it! I remember writing simple poems and stories, and even plays, from the age of seven. Later on, most of my creative energy went into English essays and it wasn’t until I started an Humanities degree that I had any formal creative writing experience. I focused mainly on poetry at that time and my dissertation was a collection of poems with commentary. After that I did an M.Phil (Literature) but that was a research project, rather than my own writing. I went on some residential writing courses, mostly for poetry, and published some in journals. I was also placed second in a magazine short story competition, but then I started lecturing at my local university and work, and academic writing, took over. It wasn’t until I took early retirement and joined a writing group that I started writing again with any real purpose. Since then I’ve had a highly commended and a second place in Writer’s Forum magazine poetry competitions, written five books for children (one published, one in production and one needing final editing), begun two more, and have two adult novels partly written. It’s been quite a productive time but I don’t think that I would have done half (if any) of it without the support and encouragement of the writing group, and then the writing circle that I’ve been involved with.

Writing for children is in such contrast to your previous work. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this first novel for children?
As I mentioned, I was part of a writing group and we were experimenting with different genres – stretching ourselves really, as it’s easy to become stuck in the same groove. We agreed to try writing for children and I completed two shorter (picture) books –one non-fiction and one fiction. Then we used story cubes (dice) as prompts for character and plot for the first chapter of a longer piece of work. The two images that came up were an open padlock and a triangle shape, but with wiggly lines rather than straight ones. Most of the group interpreted the shape as a pyramid or a tent but it immediately reminded me of a doodle that I’ve been drawing on the corners of pages since I was a teenager. It’s a partial cobweb with a spider dangling from it.

 Once that thought had come into my head, I couldn’t shift it and so the basis of the story line developed. The padlock gave rise to the spider’s name (Lox) but also to the idea of his role as gate-keeper to the spider kingdom. The plot uses the traditional motif of a quest, but with a twist. I completed the first chapter and as I had such positive feedback from the group, I decided to finish it. Considering that I spent the last ten years of my working life in the intergenerational field, it’s not surprising that the main character, Ben, and his grandmother have such a close relationship, but this evolved as I was writing the book – it wasn’t a specific intention when I began.

When you embarked on ‘Ben and the Spider Gate’, did you envisage that there would be more books in the series?
When I was about three quarters of the way through the first draft of ‘Ben and the Spider Gate’ I knew that there was a lot more that I could, and wanted, to do with the characters and situations, but the general advice for the book length (aimed at the 5-8 age group) is to have about 10,000 words. That’s when I decided to have a short series, of three, that would follow Ben and Lox’s adventures over one year. By the time I finished the first, I already knew the basic story outline for the second one, ‘Ben and the Spider Prince’ (due April 2016) but I wasn’t sure about the third. ‘Ben and the Spider Lake’ (due Nov 2016) developed from a series of unrelated incidents – Welsh Water digging up the road in front of our house, a programme about hidden lakes, and another about mass migration!

I wanted each story to stand alone, so I’ve allowed Ben to recap some of the previous adventures, either by remembering or by talking to his gran or his best friend, Jess, so that the relationship between Lox and Ben is explained. However, I’ve tried to be careful not to repeat too much as it can irritate the reader if they’ve read the previous book(s), spoil it if they haven’t, and it also runs away with the word count!

So that means we'll follow the same characters in each of the books. I think young readers like that, don't they?
Yes. Ben, Jess, Gran, Scoot the dog, and Lox figure in varying degrees in each book. It’s the characters who contribute to the magical elements that vary, as well as some of the locations.

Perhaps, you’d like to tell us how you went about finding the right publisher for your book.
My first search was for publishers who were accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Then I looked for some more detailed information about each company and at their terms of submission. The main thing that influenced me to submit to the Book Guild was that they asked for the whole manuscript right away and they guaranteed to respond more quickly than many others, which they did.

I love the black and white illustrations in the book. How much ‘say’ did you have in the choice of these?
Almost complete control. I was asked to describe how I saw the main characters and anything else that was important to the story. I was told that I could suggest which scenes I wanted illustrated. I knew that there would be ten illustrations so I made a list but said that there were only four that I absolutely wanted put in. After that I gave the illustrator, Michael Avery, licence to choose what he considered the best scenes, but he only changed one of my suggestions. He sent me some character sketches initially and they were mostly brilliant, but I didn’t like the way that Lox had been portrayed, so Michael changed that. When I saw all the completed illustrations, there were two that I was unhappy with but they were altered without any fuss.

I believe you’ve taken your books into schools to gauge the response from the children. Would you like to tell us about some of those visits?
Yes, two schools have acted as ‘test’ readers for me and the responses have been very encouraging. One of the schools invited me in for World Book Day last March and the other invited me in to talk the pupils about the writing/publishing process. I was bombarded with questions and amazed at their acuity. I recently visited a school that had no prior knowledge of the book and was delighted at their attention and interest. Some of them were really surprised that books often start off with a piece of paper and a pencil. The self-editing process also confused some, as they thought that once something was ‘finished’, that was it. (Often applied to classwork/homework, I was told!) I’m hoping to make many more school visits, as children really are the best judges.

What is the biggest compliment a child could pay you after reading ‘Ben and the Spider Gate’?

To ask when the next one will be ready! This has already happened with some of my test readers in the two schools and also with Maria Grachvogel’s son. Maria is a London-based fashion designer and gave me an ‘attributable quote’ for the publishers:
“A heart-warming and magical tale which will really capture your child’s imagination. My son really enjoyed the book and very much identified with Ben and Lox. Each evening he wanted to hear the next instalment and was very captured by the story.” 

That's lovely to hear, Angela. You must have been delighted with that. On a general note, how much planning do you do when you embark on a new story?
I don’t make really specific plans but I generally have the story outline, and sometimes quite a bit of detail, in my head before I even put pen to paper. I like to talk to my characters and even role-play their parts. I do plan things like time sequences, for example, as I have to make sure that I don’t make mistakes or create something that isn’t believable. I’ve also had to bear in mind that two of my main characters are seven years old so there are many places they wouldn’t be able to go, or things they couldn’t do, at that age. Although there’s a magical element to the stories, they do have a basic everyday setting, so I have ensure that it is realistic.

Do you have a typical writing day?
No, not really. I find it difficult to set and stick to a specific time for writing every day. Sometimes I prefer to read and I think that helps as it can clear my mind. Then, when I do sit down to write I can achieve a lot more, and more quickly, than if I tried to make myself write for a set time each day. Once I am really into the story, I can write for anything up to eight or ten hours in a day.

What are you currently working on?
I have another book for children, Molly and the Magic Mirror’ (8-11 age group) mapped out and the introductory section written but I need to decide if I’m going to have it as one book or a series. I’ve written the first of a collection of short stories about ‘The Adventures of Brian, the Happy Banana’.  I also have two adult novels partially written and I’d really like to complete them – even if it’s just for my own satisfaction.

You must be very excited about the launch of ‘Ben and the Spider Gate’. How will you be celebrating?
Yes, it’s a lovely feeling to see something that started as a doodle end up as a published book. It’s a strange feeling seeing my name on the cover.  As I received my copies a little while ago, we had a family celebration then. By the time the next book is out, in April next year, I should know if ‘Ben and the Spider Gate’ has been well received. If it has, then I think a more formal launch party for Ben 2 might be in order!     

Thank you so much, Angela, for taking time to chat to me. I wish you good luck with the new book. 
Thank you for taking an interest. Good luck with your own writing, too.

‘Ben and the Spider Gate’ is published by Book Guild Publishing and can be bought direct via its website.

Or, links to the book on Amazon for pre-order:

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

Monday 14 September 2015

Competition Entries
This week, I have been working on a few short stories ready to submit to competitions before I leave on my holidays next week. I've re-worked, edited, changed word order, then changed it back again in some cases and generally polished the writing to make it the best I possibly can. I've read the stories out loud and spotted words left out, checked the rules and noted who the judges are. At last came the moment when the stories and cover sheets went into the respective envelopes along with the cheques for the appropriate entry fees and I dropped them into the post box. Others I submitted on-line with fees paid via PayPal. I can now forget about them and wait. 

Here is another reminder that there is still time to enter The Alfie Dog Fiction International Short Story Competition. The closing date is 30th September and there two great prizes: 

1st Prize:

£200 AND Publication of a short story collection of 35,000 – 40,000 words with editorial support for completion

2nd Prize:

full critique of stories to a total maximum word count of 10,000 words

Entry fees are the download of 5 short stories (different authors) so it has the added benefit of generating royalties for other authors. Stories are submitted online. Please click here for full details, Competition rules and entry form.

For those of you who still haven't entered, this is what Editor, Rosemary Kind, said in her review of last year's competition which you may find helpful:

'In the initial stages every story was assessed looking for how well they met key points. These included in no particular order: the title, opening, story arc, ending, the depth of the characters, speech, layout, emotion, originality, grammar etc, readability and reader satisfaction. Each story was scored in all of these areas.
While scoring them makes it sound like an objective process, clearly what constitutes a good opening is a subjective matter. You may also think there are some obvious things missing, such as whether the story was written from the right point of view and whether the writer had handled things such as point of view effectively, but the consideration of these came within the heading of reader satisfaction.
In later rounds stories were reread with more emphasis on originality, reader satisfaction and emotion and less on the basic components, which by this stage had been established. In purely statistical terms, endings were the weakest area and one many writers would benefit from looking at this aspect more closely. This was followed by the depth of characters and perhaps unsurprisingly openings. In contrast the mechanics of layout and grammar, punctuation, spelling etc were handled very well in almost all entries.
What set the better stories apart, more than anything, was the originality of their story ideas and the high level of reader satisfaction. Ideas were not contrived, but enabled the reader to suspend reality for a few minutes and enter a different world. Their characters were convincing and believable with a greater depth of emotion that touched the reader.'

Good luck to everyone!

Have you judged any writing competitions? Perhaps you'd like to tell us what you think makes a winning story.

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

Friday 4 September 2015

A First For Me
I am always amazed at the generosity of authors and writers in their support of each other. They celebrate each others' successes, commiserate when stories are rejected and encourage  other writers to keep going, especially when times get tough. You only have to read comments on Twitter and on Facebook Writer pages to see evidence of this. I still consider myself to be a beginner writer aspiring to have my writing published and so far my achievements have been very modest. However, the support I've received from writing buddies, an on-line critique group, my followers on social media as well as in the writing groups I attend locally has been immense. Although the life of a writer can sometimes be a lonely one, it is made all the more comfortable knowing that fellow writers are out there supporting you.

One writer I 'met' on line was Susanna Bavin from Llandudno in North Wales. I  first met her as a buddy when I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in November, 2014. It was clear from the outset that she was very supportive, encouraging me to keep writing each day in order to achieve my goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. Knowing there would be an encouraging comment from Sue at the end of each day in my In-box spurred me onto the finishing line.
Since then, she has regularly commented on my blog posts and takes the time to publicise them through retweets and favouriting.

I am a follower of her excellent blog where the topics are wide ranging and thought-provoking. As writers we always receive a 'thank you' from her in the form of a lovely photo of a rose if we leave a comment or tweet about it. 

This week I am thrilled to be a guest on Susanna's Blog answering questions about my writing journey so far. This is a first of me and is further evidence of how supportive she is. So, in true Susanna Bavin style, here's a rose for you, Sue, to say thank you for inviting me:
Do you have someone you've met on-line who's encouraged you on your writing journey? What support have you had from other writers?

Thank you for reading.

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

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Stories in a Flash
Flash Fiction goes by many names including micro fiction, short shorts, nanofiction. At my very first lesson on a short story course, I learned that a 'drabble' is a story in just 100 words and one of the most famous examples of flash fiction is a mere six words, attributed to Ernest Hemingway. 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.' The reader is left with so many images and interpretations that are left unsaid. Flash Fiction appears to have gained in popularity over the last few years and there are plenty of opportunities to submit your stories. In fact, there is now a National Flash Fiction Day, held this year on June 27th. So what are the main characteristics of a Flash Fiction?

  • Brevity. It doesn't matter what the specific word count is, Flash Fiction condenses the story into the fewest number of words possible. You have to ask yourself if every word is essential to the story. This 'paring to the bone' is an excellent discipline for me as I tend to be very wordy when I start writing a story. 
  • A beginning, middle and an end. In spite of its concise form, the story structure and plot need to show a complete story. 
'For me, the basic fictional elements, such as character, setting, conflict, and resolution, still need to be present.'  Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, Competition Founder and Judge of Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction competition  

  • A twist or surprise at the end. Not all stories have to have one but it makes the reader think, long after reading. Other people say that the last line of a flash fiction can take the readers elsewhere, to a place where they can ponder about the ideas in the story, making re-reads inviting. 

This week I was very pleased to hear that two of my flash fiction entries into the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction competition in June had been selected for the anthology 'A Stash of Flashes' to be launched in November. 

Do you like to write Flash Fiction? If so, how do you go about writing it? Do you start with a longer piece and chip away until all the superfluous words have gone or start writing with the tight word count in mind?

Thank you for reading and please leave your comments about Flash Fiction. :-) 

Now I'm going back to that first draft of a much, much longer piece of fiction, my WiP novel - 75,441 words and rising!

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