Do you know who I am?

Last week, I had the opportunity to show my published and soon-to-be published pieces to my work colleagues. Some of them were aware of my writing through reading this page, while it was news to others.

I don’t talk about my fiction writing much when I’m doing my day job. Although it certainly isn’t a secret, I believe there is a time and a place for promotion, and I was given that time and place on Thursday lunchtime, so I took advantage of it.

On Twitter and Facebook, it’s particularly important to keep a balance between ordinary updates and promotional copy. How often have you seen an account post exactly the same message four or five times a day? It makes people switch off, like that one individual you avoid at the party as you know they’ll talk about their pet subject ceaselessly. Besides, if you say everything upfront, what is there left to have a conversation about?

Two great places for advice about promotion – and there are dozens of others – include the writer Rayne Hall, and the marketer Wilco Wings whose advice can be adapted for writers.

And now I have your attention through our implied conversation, it’s time to launch into the self-promotion.

To date, three of my short stories have appeared in the following anthologies: Because of What Happened by The Fiction Desk, FourW Twenty-Four by Booranga Writers’ Centre (I’m not credited on the website, only in the book), and Alternate Hilarities by Strange Musings Press. While looking out materials for my work event, it seems I’ve misplaced my copy of Because of What Happened, so I’ll have to hunt it down like JR Hartley and his book about fly fishing.

 

I’m also due to have two poems published in an upcoming anthology called Seagate III when the last tranche of funding comes through, and one in a promotional leaflet for the MLitt Writing Practice and Study programme at the University of Dundee.

By coincidence, I received an e-mail last week from Giovanni Valentino, editor of Alternate Hilarities. In each of his anthologies, he likes to run a reprint from the magazine of the same name from the 1990s, but it’s becoming harder and harder to find the authors.

To this end, he’s asking the Internet for help. On the off-chance that you’re one of the following people, or that you know their whereabouts, please e-mail him forthwith at giovanni.valentino@strangemusingspress.com.

Issue 2

  • Alex MacKenzie, The Elvis Wars
  • Dana Cunningham, The Man Who Could Communicate with Animals
  • Buzz Lovko, The First Dinosaurs (a near Myth)

Issue 3

  • Dan Crawford, X-0001
  • Ken Goldmen, The Devil and Myron Rabinowitz
  • Michael Eugene Pryor, Irreconcilable Instructions

Issue 4

  • E. Jay O’Connell, Until the Tuna Runs Out
  • Alex MacKenzie, The Real Me

Issue 5

  • Tomas Canfield, Learning the Ropes
  • Leonard Jansen, Old ’99

Issue 6

  • Greg Costikyan, They want our Women!
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Can I Have a P Please, Bob?

Plagiarism

Hot on the heels of my copyright post the other week, a case of poetic plagiarism was brought to my attention. Remaining copies of Laventille have been pulped after Sheree Mack admitted to including others’ work in her own inadvertently, although fellow poets have accused her of stealing work deliberately.

In this instance, it’s not only the original poets who have been hurt by her actions, but the pulping will wipe out the profit margin that Smokestack Books would otherwise have made.

The one positive aspect we can salvage from this mess is that this type of plagiarism is relatively rare. If it happened every day, this story wouldn’t have been reported and nobody would have kicked up such a stink.

Postgraduates

I’m a firm believer that every writer ought to learn the skill of public performance. More on that story later. But last Wednesday marked the first time I would be performing to an audience of academics, rather than the general public or other writers.

The University of Dundee has run a Postgraduate Conference for the last four years where students set the agenda by presenting papers. Students were also free to respond creatively to this year’s theme, Lost in Translation. When I saw the final running order, I appeared to be the only person giving a creative response, and I seriously considered withdrawing as I didn’t feel it would fit in with the other presentations.

The upshot is that I did go ahead with it, although I was moved to a different slot with theatre students and a novelist. I felt it flowed more smoothly, and I received an excellent response, both verbally and on the anonymous feedback slips. My tutor was also sure to stop by and ask a couple of tough questions.

Performance

Shortly after the Postgraduate Conference, I went along to a workshop… on performance; unfortunately, it had to be in that order. Jenny Lindsay, one half of poetry duo Rally & Broad, was hosting, and they’re one of my favourite contemporary acts. She asked each of us why we were there. I told her I was quite comfortable with public speaking, but I felt there was always more to learn.

Blockbusters (UK game show)
Blockbusters (UK game show) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She took us through the process of preparing for an event, including how we might introduce ourselves, putting together a set list, and we even took turns at walking out in front of an audience. The organiser is hoping to put on another event in the near future but using an actual stage.

If you have the chance to hone this skill where you live, I recommend signing up. What many writers don’t realise is that if you’re snapped up by a publisher, you’ll be expected to read excerpts to a live audience. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to stand up and entertain people, but the only way to make it easier is to keep practising, and prepare your materials thoroughly in advance. Remember, most audiences aren’t sitting waiting for you to slip up – they’re willing you on.

Promotion

Although National Novel Writing Month and its offshoot Camp NaNoWriMo are over, an enthusiastic band of us have continued to meet each week. The most recent meeting was yesterday, but we left after an hour to visit Waterstones where Kirsty Logan was promoting her novel The Gracekeepers.

I’d seen the posters across town, but I hadn’t heard much else about it until that evening. By the time I’d listened to the excerpt, learnt about the background of the world in which it’s set, and was told were some characters written as gender-neutral, I decided I wanted it. The issue of gender is something I become interested in since my feminist friends talk about from time to time.

And our group each spoke to Kirsty Logan for a couple of minutes each as she signed our books. I wish I’d thought to take a photo, as her dress contained pictures drawn in the same style as the book jacket. If I ever have a novel published, that’s a touch I’ll think about adopting, although I might settle for a shirt rather than a dress.

Find your niche.

Where and how you write is as individual as the work you ultimately produce. There are many examples of writers who need a particular space, certain items on their desk or a strictly-observed time of day, and there are others who can churn out stories in the back of a taxi. Shortlist gives a few examples. I fall into the back-of-a-taxi category.

When I’m at home, I prefer to stand up while writing, normally using an ironing board to rest my materials. I sit all day in an office and it’s a relief to be on my feet, plus the health benefits have been known for some years. In February, for instance, Tom O’Donnell took a satirical look at the health dangers of sitting down all day.

Minimal modern writing desk
Minimal modern writing desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, it’s also my least favourite place to write as there are many distractions around the house, such as tidying or loading the washing machine. To that end, I sometimes write in a cafe or a library. Unfortunately, I’m not often able to stand up there, but I find I concentrate better as I only have one desk, and there are no chores needing done.

The background noise is also a consideration, as there’s a fine balance to be sought. When I write in the University of Dundee library, I always choose the Group Study area. I find silence quite conducive to writing, but I’m also on edge because every rustle of paper or drink of water then stands out a mile, whereas a consistent ambience can more readily be tuned out. The opposite is also true. I’ve tried to write in Dundee Contemporary Arts, but the noise is loud then quieter as the audience enters and leaves the cinema, and this is just as distracting.

Of course, such distractions can be overcome with headphones. For the last year or two, I’ve written to the soundtrack from the film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It’s an unwieldy title, but the Nick Cave music helps my writing along no end.

The need for writers to use their personal rituals makes me wonder whether there’s a market for a dedicated studio nearby. I have a few artist friends who rent individual rooms in a converted mill and can work undisturbed at their convenience.

Considering the average size of the studios, I reckon it would be possible to squeeze up to four soundproofed booths in one of them, allowing each writer to stay in his or her own customised bubble. An Internet search shows the nearest dedicated writers’ studio is in Nottingham, with a handful scattered around the US, and that’s a long way to travel from Dundee just to find the ideal environment.

However, if you are in the city of Discovery, Hotchpotch is taking place tonight at The Burgh Coffeehouse on Commercial Street. It’s an open mike night for writers, where you can read your own material or come along to listen. More information about Hotchpotch on the Facebook page.

The Finish Line.

Every April, there’s a contest called Camp NaNoWriMo, an offshoot of November’s National Novel Writing Month. In November, the aim is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Camp, by contrast, allows participants to choose a word goal starting at 10,000 and to work on any type of writing.

I intended to do more work on one of my unpublished novels, which is mostly written but needed extra scenes. I did write a few thousand words of it, but I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm as I did when I edited it a couple of months ago. Rather than bore myself stupid with it, I changed focus.

A piece of advice often given to new writers is Finish what you start. It’s rare that I don’t finish work, but I did have a few short stories that had gone nowhere. I therefore used the opportunity to finish two of them.

One had started off as a little self-indulgence but rereading it after this time allowed me to work out and deliver the message I was trying to convey. The other one should have been written in one session, but I was interrupted and never went back to it. I now have a satisfactory ending for both pieces and they’re ready for a second redraft – and a ruthless reduction in their word counts. As for the novel, I will redraft it when my enthusiasm returns.

Camp NaNo is traditionally done without a group leader and without meet ups in person. In Dundee, however,  we’ve been fortunate enough to have active members who have met up every Tuesday in April to work on their respective pieces. I set my own target at 10,000 words as I also had a university paper to hand in around the same time, but thanks to these meetings, I managed to reach the goal.

If you’re also in Dundee, by the way, there’s a new monthly Literary Lock-in at the George Orwell up the Perth Road. There are no speeches or readings, just an opportunity for writers to mingle and speak with each other. The next one is on 25 May.