A Christmas gift for writers

Mslexia Writer's Diaryv2013As writers we need several things to keep us going, and inspiration, information and organisational skills are among the most important. In fact, a PA wouldn’t go amiss either.

The Mslexia Writers’ Diary 2013 provides far more of this than you might imagine. From the beguiling front cover artwork to the valuable ‘resources for writers’ section towards to rear of the book, it provides everything you need to help you keep every deadline in check and make use of each writerly opportunity going.

As well as plenty of space to scribble down your commitments, thoughts and ideas, the diary also contains some unique sections specifically for writers, including tips on networking, advice on manuscript layouts, a glossary of editing marks, (and, randomly yet pleasingly, cooking conversions), features focusing on the creative benefits of collaborations, plus a submissions diary, and a comprehensive selection of the key literary events and competitions you can make use of in the year ahead. Continue reading

Regeneration Game

East Street, BedminsterIn August 2012 the following feature appeared in The Bristol Magazine. It is published here with their permission.

An update on this story will appear on SkyLightRain soon.

The Bristol Magazine Regeneration Game PDFJudy Darley finds out what becoming one of only a dozen communities in the country chosen to be a Portas Pilot area could mean for the future of Bedminster.

Recently community leaders in Bedminster, Bristol, celebrated an unexpected windfall. After putting together a bid explaining the ways in which the district’s high streets could be improved, Ben Barker, George Grace and a number of others in Bedminster put it forward for the Government’s Portas Pilots competitiaon. The scheme, launched in response to a review of the UK’s high streets by retail expert Mary Portas, sought 12 communities to allocate up to £100,000 to each.

Continue reading

Book review – A Girl’s Arm by Gee Williams

A Girl's Arm by Gee WilliamsThe Knight’s Move, the opening story in Gee Williams’ collection, transports you to a cliff-face where guilt and memory meet an intent not quite specified. As with much of the best storytelling, a lot is is left unsaid, and what is said is raw, sharp, and sour-tasting in places, exquisitely sublime in others: a combination that works well for the reader.

By the end of the tale I feel that I know exactly how to climb an all-but sheer rock-face and the accompanying sense of weightless, a sensation that carried on for much of the collection, as Gee’s words you, then dip you from one life to another.

Most short story collections are a journey of sorts, as you travel from character to character, scenario to scenario, taking in the different views along the way. Continue reading

Cinderella shoes…

Jennifer Collier paper shoe scultures

These delicate paper shoes by Jennifer Collier look like something Cinderella might lose on a staircase – utterly irresistible! They popped up in a press release about the Made By Hand Festival, and totally captivated me.

What Katy Did stilettoMade from pages torn from books (yes, I’m flinching too), they’re the perfect gift for a book lover. And before you explode with writerly concern, I’ve had a chat with Jennifer and she says: “I enjoy nothing more than finding a cook book splattered with food stains or a water damaged paperback that I can save from land fill and transform into something beautiful.”

So she’s not sacrificing books, she’s saving them!

“All my work is created from original papers, most of which are end of life books, which have been damaged in some way, and which I tend to find by scouring charity shops and flea markets.”

Jennifer also runs workshops sharing the skills to enable you to try making your own unique paper sculptures, and works to commission with customers choosing their favourite texts, or supplying the papers chosen, so you can see your own works transformed into a work of art: “Some of the nicest pieces I have made have been people own writing and I have even used their own love letters in the past.”

I think I’m a little bit in love myself…

You can see Jennifer’s creations for yourself at the Made By Hand Festival, Tredegar House in Newport, South Wales, from 30 November–02 December 2012.

Book review – On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing coverBook review by Emma Bragg.

There are numerous books out there that tell us how to be a writer and these range from reference books listing magazine titles to books on how to sell short stories, but Stephen King’s On Writing appears to have something different. Subtitled as ‘A Memoir of the Craft’, that is essentially what it is – combining an autobiography with the lessons of being a writer.

The first part of the book is entitled ‘CV’ and this is a short memoir about Stephen King. Even if you’re not a fan you can’t help but find this part of the book entertaining. King reveals how he found an interest in horror stories and came to have an interest in writing, eventually selling his first story to a magazine.

Alongside this are the childhood tales of his exploits with his older brother Dave that made me wonder how King survived his childhood years at all, with the stories of poison ivy and Dave’s Super Duper Electromagnet: “We each had our part to play in creating the Super Duper Electromagnet. Dave’s part was to build it. My part would be to test it.”

Within the first few pages of this book I had to look up from the pages and re-read the back cover, because the reason most people read a book like On Writing is in order to become a better writer. It is a book you pick up for self-education, for self-improvement, so why is it this funny? There is something within us, probably habituated from stuffy classrooms and monotone teachers, that tells us learning isn’t supposed to be this fun.

The ‘CV’ section is there to demonstrate how King is ‘qualified’ to speak on writing. I find it strange that a writer so infamous and with so many books in print including those that have been made into films, such as ‘Carrie’ and ‘Misery’, feels the need to include this at all. Surely his authority to speak on the subject of how to write a good book is already evident? But this section contributes to making the book what it is.

Finding out more about King as a person as well as a writer opens the book up to a greater readership, including those that haven’t read his books. I don’t believe any other book about writing has such large biographical content and it makes the rest of the book – the parts about the mechanics of writing – more personal.

The book doesn’t claim to show us the method of writing but there are a few essential tips that come through strongly such as overuse of adverbs. King makes so many references about this throughout the book and often in a humorous way that you couldn’t possibly forget: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.”

That is one of the beauties of this book; so much of it is funny and is light-hearted that I didn’t feel I was trying to absorb a vast tome of dos and don’ts.

King manages to utilise biography and humour in order to make On Writing more than just another book about writing. It is also a laugh-out-loud piece of entertainment and because it’s filled with humour and stories you remember the lessons associated with them, which is of course why you picked up the book in the first place.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is published by New English Library and available from Amazon.

How to conduct a successful interview

Reflection in Limerick RiverAs writers, we’re naturally interested in the lives of other people, and interviewing the people who inspire us can be one of the major perks. From Q & A sessions to in-depth features, there is definitely an art to carrying out a successful interview.

From expats in Spain to legendary authors, I’ve interviewed a large range of people through my work as a journalist. Here I’ll cover everything you need to know, from choosing and contacting your subject to preparation and implementation. Continue reading

The answers to all your writing questions!

This section of the website will gradually build up to provide the answer to all those difficult writing questions, such as: How do you set up a home office? How do you conduct a successful interview? How can you boost your online presence? How can you improve your chances of winning writing contests? How can you gain your first paid writing job?

The first of these posts goes live first thing tomorrow, so look out for it!

Small heads, big ideas

Small plaster head cr Lizzie MorrisYesterday marked the end of this year’s Totterdown Front Room Art Trail, one of my favourite annual Bristol events. And 2012’s was one of the best yet!

Each house sporting the quintessential black and orange duck flag yielded up more ingenious, innovative artist talents. The scent of mulled wine wafted through rooms, the sun shone and we shared smiled with everyone we passed. *Sigh*

Tiny plaster face cr Lizzie MorrisBut one of the more extraordinary moments was when we entered a house on Oxford Street to discover a kitchen table stacked with gigantic pill packets, each foil-sealed recess cradling a small plaster human head.

Their creator, Lizzie Morris, gave me one to bring home and I’ve been mesmirised by it ever since.

Have you ever seen anything so tiny, yet so perfect?

More Water Than Land

untitled cr Katy Webster

For the Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2011, I coordinated a group of writers to collaborate with artists across the trail, producing pieces inspired by some of the artwork.

I wrote this poem in response to Katy Webster’s abstract painting shown here. Curiously enough, when I showed the written piece to Katy, she mentioned that she’d had the idea for the painting while on a train journey. You can see more of Katy’s work at www.katywebster.com.

More Water Than Land

If she half-closes her eyes, the world blurs against the window,
hills and fields transforming
into a view that seems more water than land.

The scene is so familiar she almost inhales the sweet,
damp smell of crops soaking up rain; puddles mirroring
the fading sheen of the twi-lit blue.

Daylight has already begun to ebb, inviting night
to creep in, and her own reflection to supersede the countryside
of memories she journeys through.

Something tightens in her gut at the thought that not long after
her face becomes an apparition haunting the glass,
she’ll arrive back in the place she once called home.

She closes her eyes fully, blocks out the rain-smudged scenery,
feeling only the thud-ah-thud, thud-ah-thud
of the train rushing her on.