Thanet Gothic and Time in Folkestone

The H.G.Wells Short Story Competition 2018 Anthology: Peace

Sunday was an eventful day. After months of reading, judging and general preparation, we (the H.G.W.S.S.C) had our annual awards ceremony and launch of our 2018 anthology, ‘Peace‘.

We were very fortunate that many of the shortlisted senior and junior entrants managed to make the awards lunch at the Grand Hotel in Folkestone. Long-distance attendees came from Dublin and St. Andrews but we had entrants from all over the world this year, including India, the USA and Australia – a result of focusing on social media marketing, I think.

It was a real treat to hear authors read selections from their own work. Several of those who couldn’t make it sent in video readings which we enjoyed over coffee and desserts. Every time I hear authors read, it’s drummed into me how important it is, when promoting your own work, to really be able to bring it to life. Take some time to practice. Read it out loud. No, act it out loud. There were two in particular who really stood out from the others – taking their time, speaking clearly and giving the characters a genuine voice – really portraying them as an actor would, with passion. 

Congratulations must go to all those shortlisted, but especially our eventual prize winners. Wendy Riley (from Australia) won the senior (over 21) prize with Yue’s Story, but – remarkably, in a competition that is completely anonymous until the shortlist is announced, also managed to secure a second shortlisting with Laila’s Story. The junior (21 and under) prize went to Abaan Zaidi (UK) for her fabulous In the Light of the Crescent Moon

It was a hard fought competition this year with around 400 entries from across the world, so it’s no mean feat to be shortlisted, let alone win. 

The ebook is already available on Amazon (link below), with the hard copy to follow shortly. Buy it here: HG Wells Short Story Competition, Anthology 2018: Peace

I’d also like to thank Norah Perkins of Curtis Brown for being our guest speaker. I’m sure all our authors really benefited from her words of wisdom. Afterwards I noticed a fair few having a quiet word with her in the corner. 

Find out more about Norah and Curtis Brown here.

Hopefully, HGWSSC will have a video up of her speech soon along with pictures from the day and video readings from our shortlisted authors. Norah’s session is well worth listening too – it is very enlightening.

Finally, we announced next year’s theme: Time.

Close to HGW’s literary heart, of course, but entrants are free to interpret it any way they choose. Closing date for entries will be 8th July – a little earlier this year to allow us, well, more time to go through the growing number of entrants we receive year on year.

Want more HGWSSC updates? Need to find out what the entrance criteria and rules are?  Click and follow here.

 

My second piece of news is that I’m very pleased to announce that Thanet Writers have today published a fourth piece of my work. From the Diary of Jane Pugin is a re-imagining of the death of Augustus Pugin with a horror twist.

I’m delighted to see this one published – its one of my personal favourites and came to me as a result of a) some homework from Inspirations Writers Group and b) a particularly good bacon sandwich I was eating outside the café on the clifftop behind his home. You can find it here in the free stories section or, see it in all its technicolour glory, on line at Thanet Writers.

 

Quick NaNoWriMo update, anyone? I’m roughly 35k in and I have five days to go. That’s 3k per day which feels achievable, although I’ve just spent the last two hours sorting out HGWSSC stuff, posts about FtDoJP being published and general blogging! Friday is also going to be less than 100% productive as I have a couple of meetings to go to…

D’oh. So that’s more like 3,750 per day to be sure! Hmmm…

I’m reasonably pleased with it so far. Just blasting it down does seem to work for me. The story feels good – but will need a fair bit of refinement. As will the characters, and, well – everything actually. It’s very much a first, very rough, draft!

But, my coffee is in front of me, so its back to a steaming keyboard I go.

3k+ coming up.

 

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, what the hell’s that? 

Good question.

Every time I hear it, I think Mork and Mindy are going to make an appearance. Say it three times, and strange things might happen, Beetlejuice style.

But, it’s a real thing. If you are at all interested in writing then it may be for you, although this year might be a little too late. Sorry.

Let me tell you about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s an American thing, but seems to have got quite some traction this side of the Atlantic. You can find them here: nanowrimo.org.

However, I’ve come to it through the good people at Thanet Writers, who are supporting it through a series of workshops. Find them by searching for NaNoWriMo Write-Ins on Facebook.

The idea is very simple. Write a minimum of 50,000 new words towards a novel over the course of November. Fifty-thousand unedited, original words. Any genre. You can prepare in advance by creating plot lines, character sketches, etc. But, you aren’t allowed to draft a single word before 1st November.

When you do start writing the ‘no edit’ part is important. This is all about blasting that first draft down, drawn from your creative brain, unconstrained by that nasty, time-absorbing analytic side of your brain that, if you are anything like me, seeks to ambush you at every turn. It’s doing it now. I have an almost irrepressible urge to go back and check my last couple of chapters.

No – arghhhhh. Get thee behind me, left brain.

Fifty-thousand words in thirty days. But I like weekends off to be with the family and recharge. So, that means I have to do it in twenty-two days. I have to average 2,272 words a day. That’s a lot for me. I’m usually happy if I get 1,500 down. When I started writing, it was more like 500.

The good news is, I’m finding it very motivational. I’ve forsworn editing and re-drafting sections and yes, I’m just blasting it down. As of the 14th November, that’s day ten of twenty-two, I’m just over 24k in – which works out at about 2,400 per day – just over the required daily target. But, I’m picking up speed as I get into the guts of the thing and, if I keep up my current rate, I’m going to hit more than 60k. Which, hopefully, will be a complete start to end first draft. If I can manage that, I will be very pleased.

It has literally (!) glued me to my desk. I’m obsessed with the challenge. A couple of days in the last week, I’ve hit 4k words. That seems to me to be a ‘proper’ rate for a full-time writer after seven hours at my desk.

Just checking: have you hit your daily word count yet?

I’ve eschewed all distractions, apart from the cat who comes to visit me twice daily, to check on my progress. I’m out of the gym and at my desk for 9am. I work until 12pm and break for half an hour or so. Then I’m back typing until 5 or 6pm – depending on where a natural break falls in the plot.

Today, I ran out of steam at 3pm; so, I’ve diverted myself with this blog, which, my To Do list tells me, I’m due to do. But, I’ve managed about 3,200 today, so I’m happy.

I’m excited by the developing story, and I think it’s moving at a pace. Hopefully, when I come to my first edit, it won’t be complete gibberish!

Just one final thought on this. I’m doing this full-time. I know a number of people who are doing this in their spare time, after a hard day at work, or looking after the family. Respect!

By way of an update, I’m delighted to say that Ham, Eggs and chips was rejected by my first-choice short story publisher (who will, naturally, remain nameless). Why delighted? Because a) I actually made the effort and got it submitted and b) it’s one less before they DO accept something from me.

However, I have heard that I’m to be published in Yellow, the Creative Inspirations group anthology. It’s being launched on 24th November at the Old Kent Market, in Margate, opposite the Turner Centre. It’s an anthology for local writers. If you can, please support it by popping along and buying a copy.

I’m also delighted to say I got wind that Thanet Writers are publishing The Diary of Jane Pugin on the 26th. It’s a short horror story set in Victorian Ramsgate and my fourth ThWri have been kind enough to unleash on the world. 

Finally, I want to plug Fika Lounge.

fikalounge.co.uk

FL is a new online book shop and coffee store (combining two of my favourite things!) located in Thanet. It’s run by a lovely couple – Martin and Hannah – who I had the pleasure of meeting last week. They’re interested in promoting and profiling local writers (ie Thanet / Kent based) and would love to hear from authors who have something to say or sell. Please contact them through their website contact form.

ONWARDS!

Lee

Draining the Mental Swamp

It’s taken me an absolute age, but I’ve finally submitted ‘Ham, Egg and Chips’ and I feel mentally drained. Its a 4,600 odd word piece set in a post-apocalyptic Thanet with, I think, quite a good twist at the end.

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It started as an exercise at the Creative Inspirations group in Westgate. Write a 250 word scene or story using the following three things: a quill pen; late autumn and ham, egg and chips. OK, I know. Arguably, thats five things.

My first draft was 500 odd words (I don’t tend to keep to the rules on these exercises if it constrains me too much) and I got all those things in, although the quill felt forced.

It also felt like a story that had longer legs. So, I dumped the quill and wrote a new piece. Draft 2.0 was 1,200 words. I read it…lots to change. Draft 2.1 was 1,500 odd. Better.

Unfortunately, first feedback was not overwhelmingly positive. Way too much exposition for a short piece. I was disappointed, but couldn’t escape the grim fact that my genial critics were right. It was like the research notes for a real story. It felt like a bit of a knock back, and I as I’d read along with the group, I knew it was true.

But, I loved the concept, and didn’t want to abandon it. Back to the keyboard I went, to build more of a story and not just a future history piece.

Draft 3.0 felt good and got a much better reception. Just over 5,000 words at this point, there was much more dialogue and action. But I was a wee bit worried about the reception of the strong female protagonist. Was she credible? How would a female audience view her actions given the context I’d put her in?

This is where I went out for some expert help. I managed to secure the help of five fabulous volunteers to read it, all of whom have great writing credentials and were qualified (from a gender perspective) to pick over the faults of my lead character. They know who they are. Thanks to all of you! Feedback was, happily, pretty good on the whole with some room for improvement.

Time for another editing session. Hey-ho.

I thought I’d nailed it with draft 4.0. I just needed one more review. I put it in front of my regular sounding posts. I know you aren’t supposed to use family, but how could anything go wrong here? I just wanted to know there were no howlers in the spelling / grammar stakes. I’d already passed three self-imposed deadlines to get this one finished.

Oh, dear.

Tammy (Mrs. S) and Ciarán (son and prodigious reader of SF / fantasy, etc) hated some of the changes I’d made. Big edits needed this morning. Draft 5.0.

Now it’s done. Finished. It’s taken me, I would guess, at least 50 hours to produce 4,600 words. I’m not sure I could face another session with THAT DOCUMENT open on my desktop, at least for some time.

I THINK its the best piece I’ve written. I am pleased with it. I’ve had some really good feedback from people I respect. I still enjoy reading it: I like the characters and the setting, it feels reasonably paced, the story arc feels strong and I love the twist at the end.

Now, it’s time to see if it can convince a publisher. I HOPE it can. It is, after all, a business of opinions.

I’m sure this is a very familiar story to anyone who writes. I’m not suggesting I’m unique. But, I wonder how many readers are aware of the effort that goes in to even a short story? I don’t think it ever really crossed my mind before I started writing, but this one has really driven it home. Even now, I don’t know if it’s good enough, but I feel a release as I file it away, not to be looked at again until I get a response. The mental swamp is drained. At least until the next time.

It’s finished. I can move on. Submit and be damned.

Shhhh…can you keep a secret?

Top Secret

Absolutely delighted to get an email this morning saying that Thanet Writers have published another piece of my flash fiction. This one is called Secrets and started life as homework for the Creative Inspirations writing group in Westgate.

It’s available here: Secrets on Thanet Writers

Hope you enjoy it.

Feel free not to keep this particular secret. In fact, please share it with as many people as possible!

Spot the Difference

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Just a quick update.

I’ve posted the “as published” versions of both Diaspora and Degrees of Separation on the Free Stories page. These were my first published stories – shortlisted for the H.G. Wells Short Story Competition in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Click here.

Why?

I thought it might be interesting to compare the pre- and post-edit versions. I find it comforting to look back and see the howling errors I made in these early stories. Hopefully, I don’t make so many now, and I don’t rely on so much exposition!

Thanks go to Tony Scofield, over at H.G. Wells Short Story Competition, for digging these out for me.

Thanet Writers: a Hard Lesson (and an Interview)

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A not-quite gratuitous food photo

I’ve mentioned Thanet Writers on more than one occasion across the site. They’re a great group and I get a lot out of the critiquing sessions at the Chapel.

But, like any honest dissection of your pride and joy – even when it’s totally constructive (with the sole intention of improving your writing), intelligent, friendly and in good humour (as it is at TW) – it can be hard on the ego.

Last week, I took along a piece I’d written for another group – Creative Inspirations. Each month, CI set a piece of homework. The task is usually to create a story of 500 words max which must include a pre-defined noun, setting and emotional state. You get the idea? I really enjoy doing these, and never miss the opportunity to force myself to write in a style or genre I wouldn’t normally choose.

But, I wondered whether taking one homework to another group for critique was somehow playing one off against the other – it feels just a bit naughty, like I’m cheating. But, the truth is, last week I didn’t have anything else ready.

So, I took along ‘Ham, Egg and Chips. This homework had to include the eponymous foodstuff, a late autumn setting and a feather quill pen. HEC fulfilled these criteria. I was rather pleased with the overall idea (a dystopian future where the human race is on the edge of collapse, writing with quills and reminiscing about once-loved food) but I have to admit, I wasn’t wild about the delivery.

There was one particular phrase I wanted help with. I’d described the chips as being like golden nuggets. Not the most inspired of metaphor. “Anyone got any better ideas?” I asked.

Anxiously, I read along with the group as they went through it. There was lots of scrawling, a bit of a chortle or two (at the parts, I’d hoped, were intended to raise a smile) and more scribbling.

But, on reading through it myself, I felt less and less at ease… Where was the pace? Where was the action? Where was the dialogue and the character building? It was all exposition. I’d really gone off the rails. I braced myself for the feedback.

Unfortunately, the group agreed and my fears were confirmed. “Golden nuggets” were the least of my problems.

Oh, dear. 

So, back to the keyboard I would go. But, not empty handed. I had the base of a good story to build on (although, in its then current form, it was more like the research for a good story) and, most importantly, I had some really positive suggestions on how to turn it around and create something good. So, whilst it was hard to hear, it’s massively beneficial to bite the bullet and go through sessions like this.

I’m fortunate that the groups that I go to (see the links page) are good at doing it – constructive and building. Whilst I feel a little bruised, I feel much more motivated to crack on, make it a better story and improve my craft. That is, after all, what this is all about and I would recommend any aspiring author to find a good group (or two) and expose their work in this way. If the feedback is not done in a positive / constructive way, then quickly jettison the group and find another. That way, you only stand to benefit.

 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first disappointment I’d suffered that evening. Earlier, we’d had a discussion about my novel – ‘Yemayah’ (neé ‘Waterguard’). I’ve been sidling up to the conclusion it needs some significant re-work, not just a final edit. I love the opening, the setting, the overall story arc and its twists…but, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with one of the major characters and some of the backstory – all of which is significant to the plot as it currently stands. That’s probably why its been in a drawer for so long. Upshot is that, unless I’m prepared to completely rewrite it, that’s where it should stay. So, for the moment, its dead. Pushing up the literary daisies. Perhaps I’ll resurrect it at some point.

Someone said something like, “If you are prepared to kill a novel, you won’t have any trouble with rewriting or removing a character, chapter or sub-plot when an agent or publisher demands it.”

Wise words, I think.

And that’s where I am with ‘Ham, Egg and Chips. It’s a good idea that’s currently broken and needs a complete re-think. I’ll give it a crack this week. Otherwise, I’ll move on.

Lesson learnt? Don’t be afraid to kill what doesn’t work. Be brave.

 

After the session, as we were walking over to the car park, our respective better-halves waiting to pick us up; Seb asked me if I would be willing to be Thanet Writers featured writer in their Q&A section.

Wow. Fame beckoned – free publicity! Is there anything else a nascent scribbler desires?

Of course, I was absolutely delighted and agreed immediately.

“Great, can you get it to me by tomorrow night? We have a bit of a deadline to meet,” sayeth my new task master.

Lesson two…take every opportunity that presents itself and meet those challenging deadlines!

You can read the interview here: Thanet Writers Q&A

Toodle-pip,
Lee

Real Blog No.1

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From the Writing Shed of the author, Lee Stoddart

So…

…a couple of weeks ago, I launched my website and Facebook page. Not so much with a bang, as a slightly muffled pop. Nevertheless, I seem to have a few people beginning to “like” me. It’s a big relief, for someone with an ego the size of mine.

I saw the genesis of my online presence as the point where I really started to get serious about my aspirations to be a professional writer: I was ready to go public – to show the world what I could, or couldn’t, do; hoping some might share the journey with me.

The good news is, in the intervening time, I’ve started another couple of short stories; but, I haven’t yet managed to pick up my novel again for its final round of editing. That’s the plan though.

Like The Wanna-be Author, there’s been some procrastination. All justified, of course.

H.G. Wells (the short story competition, not the author) has very much got in the way of increased production levels. The involvement of the eight judges (of which I am one) really ramps up once the competition closes at the end of July, and there is a mad couple of months of heavy reading to get through.

Now, in early September, we are two rounds in and have reduced the original 400-odd entries down to just 40 (20 senior, 20 junior). No mean feat in itself.

These survivors have to be closely read and scored before the 15th September; after which, the third round closes and we meet to finalise the shortlist. I enjoy it immensely, but it’s quite a drain on my time.

I am also the HGW Chairperson’s glamorous assistant, managing the admin of the process once we are in judging-mode. It’s been made a lot easier this year, in that the website is more automated than ever before (thanks to Tim Prater at Prater-Raines who develop the site and host us, down in Folkestone). Nevertheless, there’s a lot of spreadsheet work to be done collating scores, sending out files for reading, etc. And, it all takes time.

I’ve also been distracted by setting up my new quarters. Inspired by a host of garden shed based authors (Henry James, Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman, Dylan Thomas, George Bernard Shaw to name-drop but a few), I’ve converted our summer house into a new workspace.

Previously, I had a room designated the “office” in my house. Huge desk, leather office chair, twin monitors, all that jazz. But, I’ve quickly come to realise that I associate this too much with my former formal, regimented work regime; not something creative. It simply doesn’t put me in the right frame of mind.

Over the summer, I’ve been trying out various places in the house, to see if the vibe is any better.  These have included: the garden (too bright), the kitchen (caffeine poisoning beckoned), the dining room (too much in the middle of stuff), the bedroom (too sleep inducing) and various cafés around Planet Thanet (over-priced caffeine poisoning beckoned).

After an inspiring visit to Henry James’ Lamb House in Rye (a National Trust property), I came to the realisation that I needed something that was remote from the house but still ergonomic. I needed a Writing Shed.

I commandeered our summer house, a small free-standing conservatory at the back of the garden. A quick search on Amazon and I’d ordered a small desk, monitor riser and laptop stand. I already had an office chair that gives great support (very important to me if I’m going to be sat for long periods) and I shifted in a good set of desk speakers (music is VERY important to me when I write). Perfect!

The good news is, it does work. I’m much more focused and can sustain writing for longer periods. Ideas seem to come quicker and are more easily developed.

Clearly, I have to have the right conditions to write. It can’t be forced, but I think it can be encouraged. I now get to ‘go to work’ as an author. The shift in location generates a shift in mind, perspective, creativity. Hopefully volume.

I seem to recall, in Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about his secluded workspace in the cellar (?), where he could lock himself away from the world. He recommended hammering out 2,000 words first thing in the day, before you allow yourself to become distracted. I’m one step closer to being able to do this now.

So, what have you actually DONE, Lee? You might well ask.

The first piece I wrote in my new lair is a short horror. It’s in my favourite setting, Victorian Thanet and is a re-imagining of the death of Augustus Pugin, written from his wife’s perspective. It’s had two critiquing sessions at the writing groups I attend, and seems to have gone down extremely well at both. I’ve put From the Diary of Jane Pugin in the downloads section.

The second is a piece of flash fiction set in a future Thanet where ‘the Event’ has crippled society and is, year-on-year, leading to mankind’s inevitable destruction. Ham, Egg and Chips is still a work-in-progress.

With my Writing Shed in place, nothing can stop me!
Lee