How horrible is this?

So it seems that not only are writers now the target of unscrupulous, money-grabbing ‘companies’, but in particular young writers as well.

We, as writers, are all aware that if you choose to use a self-publishing company for your book, or even an independent editor, you run a certain risk of being taken for a ride. Research and prudence will usually see you good in these instances, but the story in the following newspaper article is another next level of dastardliness. I’ll also mention that I have a friend who fell for this one, and she is by no means gullible.

I shan’t say any more, as the article speaks for itself…

It’s a typical weekday morning rush. As you hurry the kids to finish their breakfast and get off to school, the post arrives. In it there’s a letter that thrills everyone. It’s from a company called Young Writers announcing that “an imaginative mini saga – a story using 50 words or less”, written by your 10-year-old and sent in by her school, has been chosen for publication in a book.

“The Adventure Starts Here is the 18th annual Young Writers’ competition and we have received in excess of 20,000 stories from all over the UK and overseas,” it says. “I am therefore delighted to let you know that Julie’s piece has been chosen for publication.”

The letter comes with an impressive “Talent for Writing” certificate which says: “This is a certificate of merit to certify that Julie Smith (not her real name) has written a creative piece of distinction that was selected for publication in a Young Writers anthology”.

Having been showered with congratulations by her proud parents, your child heads off to school on cloud nine to tell her friends and teachers of her success. But her mood is less jubilant, when she discovers that she’s by no means the only “winner”. Most of her friends’ parents have received the same letter.

Your mood takes a further dive when you read the letter in more detail and find that it’s going to cost you £14.99 plus £2.50 postage to buy the book containing your child’s work. OK, the price comes down the more you buy – “a great keepsake for other family members, capturing a snapshot of Julie’s work at this age in a format that will last for years to come” – and postage is free if you buy four or more. But it seems a ghastly amount to pay for something where your true interest lies in only 50 precious words written by your child – the rest won’t hold quite the same fascination, let’s face it.

This was the scenario for my daughter and many of her friends last week. Most parents reacted with delight when they first read the letter and, despite the cost, some readily complied with their children’s request to order at least one copy – “pester power” is hard to resist when your child appears to have achieved so much and wants mum and dad to buy the proof.

Most, however, felt more sceptical on hearing that virtually all the entries from the school had been accepted for publication – a spokesperson for Young Writers confirmed to me that between 60% and 80% are published. Was this venture, they wondered, perhaps more about making money out of proud but gullible parents, than a genuine literary achievement by their children?

One mother says: “Our daughter has needed special help with reading and writing in the past, so when we first discovered she had been chosen to have her story published, we were so proud that both her dad and I were literally in tears. The letter made it sound like her work had been singled out and that was a massive achievement for her. Then, when I found out all her friends’ stories had been chosen and that the book was only being sold to parents and would not be available in bookshops or libraries, I realised it must be a money-making exercise. I think playing with parents and children’s emotions in this way is absolutely outrageous.”

Elaine Millard, chair of professional body the National Association for the Teaching of English, says: “I would disaprove of this. It appears to be a money-making business with little educational merit. Looking at the website at youngwriters.co.uk, there isn’t any advice on how to write well – this is left to the school – and no apparent feedback for the children. The book on offer is also very expensive and, coupled with parents’ desire not to let their children feel left out, puts pressure on parents to buy at a time when many are having to count every penny. Parents would be better off spending their money on the many lovely children’s books available for half the price in bookshops to read with their children.”

Parents who wish to encourage their children’s creative writing further should look instead at websites, including publishinghouse.me.uk and poemhunter.com, where children can upload and publish their writing online free of charge and get feedback from their peers, Ms Millard suggests.

Reputable national writing competitions are also worth looking into. Parents will find a list of those available for both child and adult writers on the National Literacy Trust website, literacytrust.org.uk.

Young Writers was invited by Guardian Money to respond to questions it raised, but declined to comment.

Taken from an article in the The Guardian
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Screenwriting… easy, right?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have got this blog back up an running mainly to give myself some focus and get myself witting fit again.

But why?

Well, with my novel complete and yet far too niche for any agents to bite, I will self-publish that, put it to the side and let the millions and adoration come rolling on in. Done. But then what do I do to fill in my time? Another novel? Hmmm (I pondered, whilst watching some series or other on Amazon) And that’s when it hit me POW! Screenwriting! Of course! With this current revolution in the way we all watch TV – moving from network channels to online viewing and box sets – there is a now a huge market for screenwriters. And not only that; it seems almost anything is given consideration, going by some of the concepts inherent in the new shows presently available from Amazon and Netflix Originals (please note that I am not referring here to the Grand Tour on Amazon, which is load of tripe).

So, with a novel that no publisher wants behind me, it’s time to look forward… although saying that, I am tempted to turn my novel into a screenplay, as much to gain experience than anything else. I’ll let you know what I discover along the way.

And so on that subject, I am now going to return to reading my screenplay bible – The Complete Screenwriting Course by Charles Harris – and will be back in touch soon to see where I am going to go with this.

What I can tell you right now, however, is that at first glance screenwriting is a lot more complex than simply churning out a story. But who said this was going to be easy? (Well, actually, the promoters of the book I’m reading kind of hinted at it, but I guess they have to).

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It’s been a while…

So now I’m back, from outer space… (sing along if you know the words)

If I’m honest, that’s not actually too far from the truth. Of course I haven’t actually been to outer space, but I am back from putting into place what I think may be the last edits on my novel (finally)… which is set in outer space. And, yes, I’m back; back to the blog.

Why such a huge gap from my previous post? Well, lack of motivation I guess is the answer. It’s hard to keep writing when there’s not that much of interest to say. Naturally, I think that everything I say is interesting, but I’m not so naive to believe that everyone else finds my mutterings entertaining. In that case then, I hear you ask, why am I coming back to blog?

Well I guess I’d love to say it’s down to a new-found injection of motivation, which would be partly true, but it’s also down to necessity. I need to get myself writing again. I’m not very ‘writing fit’ at the moment, which is a horrible feeling because a few years ago – and in an analogy to ‘running fit’ (which I actually am) – I could run out a few thousand words in one sitting, and yet now, after just a longish paragraph I feel the need to rest, down an energy gel (in the form of a cup of coffee) and walk for a little ways (in the form of sitting down to watch something on Netflix).

Enough!

Time to strap on my speedy fingertips, engage my sluggish brain and, as the very first action in my new fitness regime, get back to regular blogging. Not simply to write again, but additionally to give myself a goal once again; that small nagging demand in the back of my Netflix-addicted brain that pulls me in the direction I need to go.

So that’s it for now. All this writing; I’m knackered.

I will explain where I intended to take my new writing fitness in the next post, but right now… back to Netflix.

Just kidding; I’m actually going for a run.

Thanks for reading.

(And thanks NASA, for the image)

So I’m going to be in a book…

… not me personally, but one of my stories will be.

You may remember a while ago that I was shouting about being on the shortlist to have a horror story published (along with 49 others) in Twisted50: a compilation of 50 short horror stories brought about by the Create50 team.

content_winner

Naturally I’m over-the-moon at this news, and having my story reach this stage means I now get to attend the the gala launch and awards ceremony in London at some point in the near future, where the final awards will be handed out.

The writing in this completion was very strong and I’m really surprised to have made it this far. And like the photo says, I do feel like a winner as getting into the book was always my goal. And did I mention that this is not going be a self-pub, but a real book with a real agent (Blake Friedman) and everything?

I’m starting to wonder if I could go on to be awarded one of the additional awards too? I mean I’m now begining to believe that anything is possible.

Furthermore, the organisers felt so many amazing stories were submitted that they have come up with a companion book called Twisted’s Little Sister, which is 50 of the best stories that didn’t make the final cut. And guess what? I’ve got a story in there too. It’s all a bit much to comprehend really.

That aside, I think one of the most exciting aspects to this is that Clive Barker (Candyman, Hellraiser) is one of the judges, which means he is going to read one of my stories…  one of my stories. Imagine, Clive Barker sitting down and reading something written by little ‘ole me.

So there we are. Just an update of what’s happening in my writing life. I’ll be in touch after the launch party.

I love saying that.

Thanks for reading.

The death of a true legend…

So as a big (and admittedly late-blooming) fan of the Beatles, I was saddened to hear of the passing of George Martin today. He was often referred to as the ‘fifth Beatle’ and rightly so in my option. Without him we would not have that ground-breaking sound we still enjoy to this day from the fab four. Not only was he instrumental in producing their records, but he – I believe – was very much responsible for putting their character and charm into the grooves of their records too; something I believe we love almost as much as the music itself.

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If you are a fan of the Beatles (and if you are a fan of music then you most certainly should be, at least on some level) then you will know that George composed much of the orchestrated parts of their songs; the strings in All You Need is Love, for example. The legendary producer was intrinsic to the growth of this band from Liverpool who came to dominate the world of pop, and then went on to produce music that pushed the boundaries in all directions.

Just because George Martin didn’t play on stage with the group and get screamed at by frenzied fans, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a huge part — well twenty-percent, at least — of this huge band.

You will be missed.

Thanks for reading.

Are school days really the best of your life?

I saw a photo on Facebook the other day. It was one that caught me off-guard and rendered me surprisingly emotional:

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It’s a picture of my old primary school during a summer sports day sometime in the early to mid 1980’s. I know that girl who’s about to win the race, she was in my class (and was always good at athletics). I know that field and I know those houses in the background. Hell, I can even know those dry, muddy tracks in the grass and remember driving my toy cars through them.

So on seeing this photo, the overriding fuzz in my head was one of fluffy nostalgia. It imparted such a feeling of sentimentality that thoughts invariably drifted toward my own children and their current time in primary school.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life at the moment: I have an amazing wife, two wonderful daughters, I live in a cool house in very cool city. I even have a pretty good job. But those primary school sports days? All carefree and sunny? They were amazing. As was the childhood life I led at the time (and yes, I’m acutely aware how lucky I am to say that).

So while I will not harp-on to my little girls that, “school days are the best of your life“, I certainly acknowledge that sentiment has a ring of truth about it. And with this in mind, I will certainly observe my daughters’ current adventures and experiences with the hope and understanding that what they are undertaking right now may just trigger something similar to my recent emotion at some point in their future. That feels good.

What I do find – thankfully – is that I don’t catch myself looking back on the past with melancholic nostalgia. That would be unhealthy. I appreciate I’m getting older, but I also appreciate there will come many more days for me to relish in the future. And with the recognition that at some point in the future I’ll look back on where I am now in life with the same warm and fuzzy feeling as came with the above photo, well, that gives me the confidence to continue on the journey we call life with my eyes comfortably on the road, and not in the rear view mirror

Thanks for reading.

Whoa, I’m a finalist in a writing competition!

Thanks to a fellow blogger, Mr Pootler, I recently entered a short horror story competition called Twisted50. It’s a brilliant idea (and one that has turned out to be more than just a writing comp) where writers who enter are additionally encouraged to leave feedback on other stories in the competition. The minimum commitment they ask of you is to read and comment on three stories for every one story you enter; I entered two stories so therefore I was obliged to leave feedback on six others. In the end I read and left feedback on nearly 60 stories – and some people way more than that. In truth, I found myself a little caught up in the whole process, which was not only enjoyable and entertaining, but also provided some really useful experience in both giving and receiving feedback, be it good… or not so good.

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