Happy Sunday, and happy writing!
Happy Sunday, and happy writing!
OK, so unless you’ve been living under a rock in the outback with no internet connection, you can’t have failed to notice it’s getting close to Christmas.
If you’re anything like me you will have been fighting this whole festive thing since it started in September – I mean seriously, let’s at least enjoy celebrating Halloween properly before we even contemplate getting out the tinsel!
But now it is a mere few weeks away, perhaps it is time to really embrace the Christmas spirit – mince pies, fairy lights and all – so that you can enjoy it before it whooshes past in a whirlwind of wrapping paper, silver bows and baubles.
So with that in mind, your writing challenge should you choose to accept it is: Write a Christmas acrostic poem.
This is simple. Spell out the letters of C.h.r.i.s.t.m.a.s. down the left hand side of a page, and then write a verse for each line beginning with the appropriate letter. I first did this back in primary (elementary) school, and my Mum still gets it out every year now.
You don’t need to spend hours creating a masterpiece, although do that if you feel inspired, but just have fun with it. Enjoy the process of creating something festive. It might just get you into the Christmas mood. And who knows, if it’s really good, show your mum – she may just decide to get it out every year from now on, too! 🎄🎅🏻🎁
I thought this was an intriguing article and worth sharing. In it Fiona Mitchell considers whether being in the profession of writing journalism helps with writing fiction. Here is what she found…Enjoy! 🙂
Sometimes people nod their heads knowingly when I tell them I’m a journalist. ‘See that’s why you’ve managed to get your book published, you were a writer already.’ But there’s a world of difference between writing magazine features or newspaper stories and writing a book with 300-plus pages. And the differences have become even more apparent since my debut novel, The Maid’s Room, was published in November.
I’ve been interviewed several times over the past three weeks and I’m trying to get used to being the one answering questions instead of asking them. Over the years, as a journalist, I interviewed quite a few people who didn’t have all that much to say for themselves – yes or no answers, without elaboration. All while my blank notebook stared up at me, along with the creeping fear that I wouldn’t have anything to fill my 1,000-word feature with. When I’ve been interviewed, I have to admit I’ve given some monosyllabic answers myself. ‘Why did you write that scene the way you did? ‘Er, I’m not sure.’ ‘And what about the juxtaposition of light and shade in chapter 7?’ ‘Erm . . .’ I’ve also fallen into the other extreme of filling the awkward spaces with seemingly never-ending gibberish.
Yep, I may be a journalist, but I’m definitely a newbie now I’m on the other side.
Here, best-selling authors and debut novelists share their thoughts on the differences between journalism and writing a book.
Fiona Cummins: Author of Rattle, and The Collector which will be published on 22 February 2018.
‘I was surprised by how exposing it felt to be critiqued by readers. I was used to writing other people’s stories – the focus of attention was never on me – and, then, suddenly everyone had an opinion. It gave me some sense of what it must feel like to have a newspaper story written about you, whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, you have no control over what others may think.
‘It’s certainly been a steep learning curve. With my tabloid newspaper background, I was used to working at breakneck speed. Publishing moves much more slowly. I’ve also had to learn to pace myself. Writing a 90,000-word manuscript takes time – I can’t just dash it off in a day.’
Francesca Hornak: Author of Seven Days of Us
‘The thing I struggled with in fiction is making bad things happen . . . This isn’t true of all journalism, but in glossy magazines there’s a constant aim to create a kind of aspirational, fantasy world, where people cook recipes and buy £200 moisturisers and scented candles. In fiction, you need to make your characters miserable, otherwise there’s no story. At first I was a bit squeamish about that, but I’ve got the hang of it now.
‘Long deadlines can be hard too; there isn’t quite enough pressure in publishing.’
Chloe Mayer: Author of The Boy Made of Snow
‘I work in news rather than features, so the longest it usually takes for my copy to appear as a newspaper article is the next day. In contrast, the book industry moves at a glacial pace! My debut novel, The Boy Made of Snow, was released last month – more than a year and a half after I signed my publishing deal!
‘As a journalist I write stories all day long, but many articles are limited to just a few hundred words. It’s a completely different skill set to make up a story from scratch and tell it over 100,000 words – with an arc, sub-plots, and an entire cast of characters.
‘The first thing all news reporters are taught is that they must tell the whole story in the first sentence; the introduction must contain the crux of what’s happened and why. But with fiction, you must gradually build a world and let the story unfold over time.
‘Another difference is that in journalism you must explicitly lay out all of the facts and be as clear as possible. Whereas with fiction, you often have to hold back – and what isn’t said, or revealed, is often as important as what is. So learning how to write a novel as I went along was the steepest learning curve for me.’
Juliet West: Author of The Faithful and Before the Fall
‘As a journalist, and especially as a news reporter on a daily paper, there’s a pressure to get your story out very quickly. Ideally that story will be word-perfect straight from your notebook. So when I first began to write fiction I attempted the same modus operandi. I thought I could file my story straight onto the page and all would be effortless and wonderful. Of course, what came out was terrible, so I would re-work every sentence, trying to make it perfect before moving on. I think I wrote three paragraphs over a fortnight, and they were desperately worthy and self-conscious and forced.
‘I realised I needed to give myself more freedom to write a first draft, allowing the story and characters to take root before going back to add polish and finesse. So that’s my top tip. Give yourself a break. Your first draft is yours alone – it’s not going to turn up in the next day’s paper with your byline on it.
‘When I did get a publishing deal in 2013 I was delighted, but also daunted by the prospect of a publicity campaign. Somehow I’ve risen to the challenge, and I’m really proud that I’m able to stand up and give a talk, or chat to a presenter on live radio. But I don’t think I’ll ever shake the feeling that I should be the one asking the questions.’
Writers have a tendency to become homebodies, to embrace solitude and focus on writing and reading alone. Reading is, of course, a solitary act; a subjective journey that we take on our own and into ourselves. Reading isolates you from others: you carry the experience of the book within you, but who can you tell? Who will understand?
Reading alone is not only lonely but makes for a narrow-minded view of literature, which is no good if you want to be a successful writer. Writers must read widely and read often, as we’re always told. We need to find new resources, read reviews, take recommendations. Writers must also learn how to pick apart the books they read, to challenge themselves, to see the stories from new perspectives. We need to add a social element to the solitary art of reading.
Maybe we’re shy; maybe we don’t know where to meet other readers like ourselves; maybe we don’t have time for a social life. That’s why you should start (or join) a book club.
At the beginning of the year, in that liminal space between old and new, spurred on by talk of New Year’s Resolutions and new experiences, I started a book club. I’d been conscious of becoming more withdrawn and wanted to kickstart my social life again, and what better way to do it than talk about reading (and writing)?
I knew of a few relevant groups but couldn’t bring myself to squeeze into them without knowing anybody. I searched online for local book clubs and found that they were all for casual readers rather than literary or writerly readers, who need to rip texts apart and learn things from them. I also found that a lot of book clubs were held on weekdays or at times I couldn’t fit into my schedule.
There wasn’t anywhere that I felt, as a writer, I could fit in as a reader. There’s no better way to find what you want (and need) than to create it for yourself, and the great thing about starting a book club is that you have freedom to make it exactly what you want it to be.
When I was on the search for a book club I knew what sort of group I would fit into best. I needed like-minded people; people who were not only readers but also writers; people that would understand what I knew but would also expand my knowledge.
To start a book club you need to have direction, and that means knowing what you want the group to be and what you want to get back from it. If you want to explore new writing, start a group that reads only contemporary books and if you want to fangirl over fantasy then focus your group on genre writing.
You can focus your book club on just about anything:
Whatever parameters you choose for the reading, also consider certain ‘rules’ for the meetings themselves. Think about possible locations for meetings (local cafes, people’s homes, or purely online?), whether you want mixed genders or a more ‘girls’ night’ or ‘mates’ date’ kind of vibe, and whether you want group members to be super strict with their readings (comprehensive notes necessary) or more casual (haven’t read the whole book? No worries!).
Establishing the expectations for your group early on avoids disagreements, disappointments, and dodgy decision-making. When everyone knows what they’re in for, everyone’s more likely to join for the right reasons and have a great time.
So you’ve got the concept of your book club settled but you’ve got nobody to attend the actual meetings. Depending on whether you want to catch up with new people or friends you already know, your methods of spreading the word about your new group might vary.
A simple post on social media asking for interested parties might be just the thing you need to get a group together.
If you don’t want to throw your net wide open you can tell a few friends, ask them to invite a friend each, and all of a sudden you have a mix of old and new buddies!
Starting afresh? Try starting a group online through a site like Meetup, posting flyers in cafes and bookstores, or talking to local libraries (or universities, or writing centres) about advertising through their channels.
The way you get your group together depends on how many readers you’re expecting to bring together and how comfortable you are with meeting new people. I’m more on the socially awkward side so I posted through Facebook, got a small group of four together, then expanded with friends-of-friends. The important thing to remember is that not everybody will be available for every meeting, so aiming high can sometimes leave you with just the right number.
It’s not enough to just start a group and get people together. You need to have excellent communication from month to month (or week to week, or whenever your meetings are planned for!). There will be a lot of decisions to make and confirm with everyone in the group, like what the book is, where you’ll meet up, and who can make it on the day.
Facebook groups are ideal for this because everyone can easily comment and make friends fast with a few clicks (on a site you’re no doubt already familiar with). Other apps like Whatsapp are also great for the tech savvy and for reaching out to members who might not have Facebook (yes, they exist!). Swap emails and phone numbers – you never know when they might come in handy.
The best advice I can give is to plan far ahead in time, like a whole month ahead. At the end of your meeting start discussing the next one, and then get in contact with everyone and let them know the details while they’re still buzzing from the fun times they just had.
As someone who ‘runs’ (or at least, is part of) a book club, and has been doing so for a solid eight or nine months now, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way (in addition to all of the above):
Starting a book club was easily one of the brighter initiatives I’ve had this year. I’ve reconnected with old friends, met new people, read (and loved) books I’d never think to pick up. We’ve had deep conversations about feminism and the authority of the writer and we’ve had excited chats about new TV shows and Harry Potter.
Book club became more than just a monthly meeting; all I had to do was put myself out there, without fear of rejection or disappointment, and I’m so glad that I finally did.
The Bath Children’s Novel Award is an annual international prize for emerging novelists.
During 2017 writers in 39 countries submitted 750 manuscripts. From these, 26 have been longlisted with an even split between novels written for middle grade (7-11 years) and young adult readers (12 years plus).
Amongst the contenders for this year’s £2,000 prize are writers from Australia, Grand Cayman, England, Ireland, Scotland and the USA.
Adventure, mystery and fantasy proved especially competitive genres within middle grade, with a notable rise tricksy villains and themes about drawing strength and wisdom from the past. Trends amongst young adult submissions included the centrality of family, the search for authenticity, and choosing your best path in a divided world.
For the next stage of the competition, our panel of Junior Judges, aged from six to seventeen years, will select a shortlist which will be announced January 5th 2018.
As all our judges read “blind” we’ll be keeping the longlisted writers’ identities under wraps until the overall winner, as chosen by SALLYANNE SWEENEY is announced February 8th 2018.
In the meantime, huge congratulations to the writers of these 26 standout titles:
|Agatha Brown and the Witchfinder General|
|Fig Swims Round the World|
|Hattie: or, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile|
|Illegal is not a Noun|
|Jack Dark and the Figment Hunters|
|Milton Hits the Headlines|
|The Agency’s Last Case|
|The Badly Born|
|The Boy Inside my Head|
|The Case in Locker 62|
|The Curse of the Weird Wolf|
|The Darlington Miracles|
|The Door in the Dark|
|The Firestone of Avisriel|
|The Ivory Rite|
|The Legend of Star Arrow|
|The Reinvention of Rolo Rawlings|
|The Waggledancing Dragon|
|Voxmort: The Stone of Death|
|What was Left Behind|
Congratulations to you all!
The Bath Children’s Novel Award is sponsored by
Happy Sunday, and happy writing!
The web has grown to become the main source of information and discovery for many people, and they depend on it to help build their perception of the world. However, at the same time the amount of information available has exploded.
Just think of Spotify’s 30m music tracks – there’s enough content just there to fill hundreds of human lifetimes. YouTube receives more video in a minute than you could ever watch and Facebook must choose from an average of 2600 relevant posts when you fire up your feed.
So, to manage the constant stream of potential information from overloading us, we all daily interact with recommender systems now. Some well-known examples include Facebook and Instagram’s Feed, Spotify’s Discover Weekly, movie and book recommendations on Netflix and Amazon – but recommenders are everywhere, assisting you to do everything from booking your travel to dating or ordering food.
However, there is one problem. Diversity.
The public discourse has now accepted terms like filter bubbles, echo chambers and fake news, but we’ve still done preciously little to consider the systems design that caused this new trend.
I heard a panelist in Amsterdam last week say that he genuinely believed Facebook and Google could incidentally cause the next global conflict by virtue of creating a more polarized media landscape. They didn’t plan to, but by rewarding attention-grabbing content that drives engagement, these companies have created a perverse incentive structure for content creators.
Ev Williams, the founder of Medium and Twitter, often uses the car crash analogy. The current systems rewards extremes he says. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course, you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply more of them.
It interprets what we do, as the person we are.
When popularity and engagement drive the publishing industry, we lose sight of what gave the industry its privileged status in society in the first place – trust and human aspiration. So, while it is tempting for businesses to interpret popularity as a signal that people simply want more of that stuff, that would be a mistake. People also want diversity, because it serves a different purpose in our lives – that of our better, future self. In the recommender systems space, we call this problem exploitation vs exploration.
One of the editors on our blog, Sam Lay, wrote beautifully about why diversity is an important counteract to popularity – and why the reason is human aspiration.
“Every Monday my unambitious and unsophisticated musical choices stare me in the face. I can clearly see why Discover Weekly is choosing the songs it does and that’s slightly embarrassing.…My saves, shares and playlist adds on Spotify indicate my aspirational self, the music I would like to be associated with, whilst what I actually listen to often serves a practical purpose or satisfies a guilty pleasure.”
In short, he argues that there is a difference between what our actual self may do in the moment and what future our aspirational self is trying to steer us towards – and that any product that helped him be more of the latter would be worth more to him. Daniel Kahneman calls this the difference between our experiencing self and our remembering self.
The problem is often that aspiration and long-term product satisfaction cannot be measured as easily and immediately as popularity. However, we know from research that users actually tend to be more satisfied with diverse recommendations, i.e. being exposed to a wider variety of content, which can prompt the experience of serendipity — discovering something new when we were not expecting it. Those sorts of discoveries have disproportionate value.
So, if our ugly actual self stares us in the face every time we open Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the best business opportunity around might be to cater more for our better selves. We know from countless branding studies that aspirational brands can charge a premium on their products and services (think Apple vs Dell), so I see no reason to assume that this shouldn’t be true in the publishing space too.
When speaking to friends about this article, one thing that kept coming back was how bookstores like Foyle’s in London are offering superior value by having diverse staff pick tables and an aspirational store environment. People buy an experience, not just a book. It might feel counter-intutivie when you’re chasing short-term clicks, but that experience will become ever more valuable if it reaches out to our better selves, rather than just re-circulating our current tastes.
The original article is here: https://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/dont-underestimate-readers-when-it-comes-recommendations-642661