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
Thanks for reading

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).

Thanks for reading

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)

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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I did NOT see these edits coming…

If you’re reading the series documenting my journey though Stunk and White’s Elements of Style, you’ll know I was recently made aware of a handy piece of editing to be undertaken on my manuscript: talking in the positive form and my use of the word not.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 08.46.05As writers, we all know redundant words such as that and very can (and should be) cut during the editing process. Until I read S&W’s book, however, I had no idea how also removing the word not can tighten up one’s prose. Writing in a more positive tone has a wonderful effect on the whole feel of a book… unless of course the mood you’re going for is one of darkness, hesitation and negativity; in that case let words like not, would, could, should, may or might come raining down. If not, dump them.

So, after reading this rule I used the ‘find’ tool and plodded though my manuscript looking for instances where I could replace negative phrases with more positive ones. I found 277 uses of the word not… that’s right, 277.

Here are just a few examples of the changes I made:

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Paragraphs, passive voice and positivity…

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 14.23.57So here I am – after a time – back on my journey through Stunk and White’s Elements of Style and my attempt at applying every single rule to my manuscript.

Today covers rules 13, 14 and 15, and can I just say how nice it was of S&W to group these rules together thus allowing me to alliterate them into a catchy title. Thanks.

Anyway, on with the post.

Rule 13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.

This rule basically tells us that writers should use the paragraph as a means of communicating intent to the reader. A paragraph can be used introduce a new topic as well as defining separate dialogue and punctuating prose. S&W make a good point on paragraph length saying in general, remember that paragraphing calls for a good eye as well as a logical mind. Enormous blocks of print look formidable to readers, who are often reluctant to tackle them. (True) But remember, too, that firing off many short paragraphs in quick succession can be distracting. Continue reading

Reblog: 14 Agents Seeking Science Fiction Novels NOW

For all my friends out there who write sci-fi, Chuck Sambuchino has just released a list of literary agents who are actively seeking sci-fi novels.

They are all US-based agents, but I won’t let stop me.

I hope you find this as useful as I did.

Yet another great post from Writers in the Storm. Thanks guys.

See the full list here