Archive for July, 2012

Kidwelly logo

Ffos Las StandOver the weekend, I drove down to Camarthenshire, Wales, for the UK’s first eBook festival, the Kidwelly eFestival. Held at the fantastic new Ffos Las racecourse (pictured below, with me in the stand) the event featured two days of author talks, book signing sessions, entertainment (including jugglers, facepainters, comedians and live bands).

I gave a speech on ‘How to Sell your EBook’ on the Saturday afternoon and also read from Bully and Paint this town Red.  And finally, I did quite a bit of wandering about, pretending I was the winner of something, although, in fact, the real winner was the weather, which was excellent.

AJ Kirby Winner

AJ Kirby Speech

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Apologies for writing this in the third person. I don’t know why I’ve done it, but maybe all this fame is getting to my head… Anyway. AJ Kirby this weekend appeared as a speaker at the UK’s first ever eBook festival at Kidwelly, in Camarthenshire, Wales. Further details of the event can be found on Wikipedia here, in Wales Online here, and on the official festival website here.

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting official snaps of the author at the event, but, for starters, here’s the programme notes and details of Andy’s talk.

Kidwelly e Programme

Kidwelly Listing AJ K
If you’re interested in purchasing one of Andy’s eBooks, why not take a look at his Amazon Author page here.

Cog FlutterbyDrum roll… After what seemed like an unnaturally long drawn-out wait, the much anticipated new issue of Sein und Werden magazine, this month guest edited by the esteemed Allen Ashley (and featuring artwork by Faye Grimwood), is now available for you to get your sticky paws on… Have a look-see at the table of contents below and hopefully it’ll have you chomping at the bit to get your hands on a copy. Which you can, from here.

 

Table of Contents

Thermoplastic Manifesto … B. Drew Collier

Any Creature She Chose… J. J. Steinfeld

Molly’s Sketch… Zachary Scott Hamilton

Gavin and the Green Knights… A. J. Kirby     

Time to Kill… Richard Charlez

Of House and Home… Richard Charlez

Arbitration, At Goo… Richard Gessner

Stalling an Ambush… Emma Lee

My Sister Said… Ian Hunter

Spiders… Scarlet Monahan

About to be Kissed… Ralph Robert Moore

Lavender… Judith Skillman

Dinosaurs… Paul Hostovsky

Frisbee… Paul Hostovsky

O World I Cannot Hold Thee Close Enough…Paul Hostovsky

The Conduit… Richard Gessner

Lunch with Veronica… Marion Pitman

Heart of Phlogiston… Marion Pitman

Last Rites… Kirby Wright

To a Friend at the Ben Hur Apartments, San Francisco… Kirby Wright

Unwinding… Zachary Scott Hamilton

The Circumstance of Luke Davenport… Caleb True

Sein LogoCopies are £4.50 / $8.50 / €6.50 (inc. p+p).
To pin down a copy email seinundwerden@gmail.com for further details.
Long live the small press!

Calling All Young Writers

Posted: July 30, 2012 in Writing Talk

Right. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’d like to introduce you all to Anna Stephens. Anna is one of the most talented writers I’ve met (virtually) and she’s here today to talk about her experiences with creative writing qualifications.  Hopefully this will be the first of many guest posts from Anna (now she has completed her course!) because I found it a brilliant, and inspiring read.

Andy

Creative Writing Qualifications – Are they worth it? By Anna Stephens

Firstly, I’d like to thank AJ for asking me to write a guest blog here – possibly the most exciting writing-related thing to ever happen to me, with the exception of Sir Terry Pratchett replying to one of my Tweets. Yes, you’ve guessed it: I’m a mostly unpublished author, hence my unseemly verve in this opening paragraph.

I have had a variety of short stories and some poetry published in my writing career so far, mostly science-fiction and fantasy in various guises. I’ve written two novels and am on my third, a sequel to the second, with a fourth planned to complete the trilogy of second and third. Confused? My first novel, HILDA, is hard science-fiction and requires some major reworking. My second novel, Calestar, I am currently pitching to agents as the first in a trilogy of gritty fantasy with both heroes and anti-heroes, good and bad gods, and an awful lot of blood and swearing. Its sequel, Blood on the Snow, is progressing steadily although not quite as quickly as I would like. The third, The Crow King, will pull together all my loose threads and wrap up the narrative in a way I would like to think will satisfy yet devastate my readers.

By now you’re probably thinking: well, she can talk the talk, but can she write? As a writer, one of the most vital things you need (other than talent) is boundless confidence in your abilities, so my answer is yes. I believe I can write. Beta readers who have read Calestar believe I can write. In a world gorging itself on Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, True Blood and Lord of the Rings, I just have to hope first an agent, and then a publisher, also believe I can write and snap up my trilogy for a six-figure sum. Each.

This isn’t because I want to be rich and famous (the blatant money-grabbing expressed above notwithstanding). It’s because I want to write, and make my living writing. I want to be legitimately required to vanish into my own head for large portions of the day and emerge, blinking in the dusk, to find thousands of blood-stained words looking coyly up at me from my laptop. I want to be able to wake breathless in the middle of the night with a plot twist or new character knocking at the inside of my skull and know it doesn’t matter what time it is because I don’t have to be in the office for 9am (unless it’s my writing office). I want to tell stories to the world. Perhaps they’re not stories which will change anyone’s life or make them understand their true natures. But they are my stories, and I think they’re worth telling.

wallpaperThe Ripped Wallpaper

With all of the above laid out like a map to a strange new world (the inside of my head), it’s time to talk about why I believe in my writing ability and how I nurtured it. Like most writers, I suspect, I started making up stories when I was very young. Apparently, after lying in bed and picking off a considerable area of wallpaper one morning, I solemnly told my irate parents that I wasn’t the criminal. Oh no, it was Jack Frost, who had come into my room in the night and ripped off the paper despite me telling him it was a very naughty thing to do. I was three.

From then on reading and writing were my passions (along with tree climbing and dolls). I had a reading age far above my actual age and skipped 90% of teen fiction in favour of ‘real’ novels that weren’t loosely disguised books of self-help for hormonal teenagers. I excelled in English at school and at A Level, but then forewent the joys of university in favour of jobs and money. Through it all, I continued to write and five years ago decided to take the plunge back into academia. I signed up for an Open University degree in Literature. My free choice Level 2 module was Creative Writing. My free choice Level 3 module was Advanced Creative Writing. On completion of them both, I was awarded the Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing (Dip LCW).

Open University LogoThe Diploma covered many aspects of writing, beginning with the basics of story and idea generation through free writing, clusters and spider diagrams. I find clustering a particularly useful tool. It involves generating a story arc from a single idea. Take a word, a central premise, for example ‘Soldier’ and write it in the centre of a blank piece of paper in a circle. Draw a larger circle around it and fill it with all the words that first come to mind when you think ‘soldier’: guns, warfare, Taliban, death, children. In another, bigger circle, the words that arise from those words: weapons, single combat, holy war, orphans, poison.

From here, I created a story arc of a man recruited into a religious war, who is trained to be a soldier but whose heart isn’t really in it because he grew up without a father killed years before in a land watered only by blood. There are no children because there are no husbands; women scratch at the dirt to feed themselves but hold onto a terrible pride at the sacrifices their lovers make, sacrifices for a God they believe still cares for them. The soldier defects and comes home, is reunited with his sweetheart for one night. The next morning, she poisons him for his cowardice.

As a central premise, it has promise. It is also infinitely malleable. It could as easily become a space opera as it could contemporary military fiction. Replace the gun with a sword and it could be a tale of the Crusades. Add in zeppelins and it could be a steampunk version of Queen Victoria’s quest to assimilate India into the British Empire. Clusters and spider diagrams can lead a writer to places she never thought she’d go. That is a quality to be embraced.

The workload and assignments for the Diploma were each targeted to develop a specific aspect of the student’s writing ability. I confess that as someone who wrote regularly anyway, I resented some of the exercises which I saw as rudimentary, but there were many more which were invaluable. The Diploma covered everything from writing flash fiction, short fiction, poetry, plays, and film/TV and radio scripts. One entire assignment was dedicated to writing a comprehensive narrative plan for a piece of long fiction. It was the hardest assignment for me, as up until that point I’d never planned my writing, instead making a list of bullet points detailing information I knew I wanted to include, along with snippets of dialogue or description which came to me at odd moments. If I’m honest, I’ve pretty much gone back to that formula for planning my work, although it’s now much more detailed; a plan/list mash-up, if you will. But what I do now is to write chapter synopses as I go, so that if I’m looking for an earlier piece of information, I don’t need to read through 50,000 words to find it.

Writers Block

Write Every Day

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned from the Diploma – and you all know it as it’s the one every single writer advocates – was to write every day. Because it was a university module and the course books were full of exercises, writing every day was not only desirable but necessary to complete the weekly tasks and monthly assignments. It was a habit which stood me in good stead once I completed the Diploma and, eventually, the degree. It is something I still practice today, even if some days it is, literally, only fifty words. The point is to keep the creativity liquid, keep it sloshing around in the hindbrain until the good bits float to the top. Then write them down.

My Diploma, and my degree, have undoubtedly made me a better writer. Two years of studying the art of creative writing but, most importantly, two years of having it marked, tweaked and critiqued by other students and my tutor, helped me to see places where I go wrong and things I’m good at. It helped me to recognise my tendency for verbosity and curb it where it isn’t appropriate (the above wittering may make you think I’ve relapsed here). Weaned me of my love of melodrama and endless suffering for my main protagonists – these days, they’re sometimes even allowed to enjoy themselves. Slapped my wrist for every single adverb and adjective with which I littered my work. Actually on that point, assignments with word limits are invaluable as you must eliminate every unnecessary word in order to complete a piece of fiction of the required length.

As well as those writing modules, I studied four modules of literature. I studied the plays of Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Bertolt Brecht, the poetry of TS Eliot and Christopher Okigbo, the fiction of Jane Austen, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Philip K Dick, Virginia Woolf, Mary Shelley. I didn’t like everything I read, but I reread everything I liked, and I hope I learned something from every single one of them.

In summation (thank god, I hear you cry) a creative writing course is an excellent idea as long as you are already a writer. If you already put in the hours and weeks and months and years in solitary confinement, armed with pen and pad, laptop or computer, fuelled by tea or alcohol, driven by the need not to be rich and famous but to tell a story, then you are writer. If you are already a writer, a creative writing course can help you hone the skills you already have, develop new ones, and weed out your weaknesses. If you are not, then no amount of qualifications or praise from friends or family will ever make you one.

And it’s a lonely profession, so think hard before you jump in. Because once you’re in the water, you have to keep swimming.

 

Anna StephensAnna Stephens

 

A couple pictures from the Wild Wolf Publishing Simon Swift and AJ Kirby event at Waterstone’s, Leeds Albion Street, on Saturday 14th July.

Couldn’t make it down? Why not check me out next week at Waterstone’s Harrogate (Sat 21st) and Waterstone’s Doncaster (Sat 22nd)? Or simply buy the book online

TabdisplLeeds WATERSTONES(Left: A table wi’ books on it and some sweets and skulls and all.

Right: Simon Swift and AJ Kirby wi’ our books)

The July fiction podcast from the Morgen Bailey writing blog is out now, featuring one of my flash pieces – ‘I Dream of Violence’ – as well as work by Christopher Farley and JD Mader. Go on, plug yourself in, you know you want to.

I Dream of Violence