Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas - A Cut Out and Keep Guide

When it comes to tackling the nightmare of undertakings and expectations December 25th forces upon us unasked, the biggest weapon in our arsenal is preparation. Just like decorating, job interviews and major crime, laying the ground work before the event can save all sorts of heartache and imprisonment later.

Unlike TK Maxx you don’t need to start in April, but by late November, four weeks ahead of the day itself, I’d suggest you take a few preliminary steps, and then work out a program to build on these as the countdown progresses. Below I detail a carefully -  scientifically, really - designed process that should solve a lot of your problems (not all of them obviously, I’m not a social worker).

Week One:

It’s vitally important that you start attuning your mind and body for the chaos ahead. There are four main areas where you’re going to need to train yourself up if catastrophe is to be avoided. Let’s take each in turn.

  1. Drinking

You should start, even at this early stage, to increase your tolerance for alcohol. It’s possibly the single most important part of this entire endeavour. How much you add here depends on your normal consumption levels. As a rough guide, increase your normal daily/weekly intake by at least 20%. If for some strange reason you normally drink no alcohol at all have three glasses of wine, two pints of the lager of your choice and a drambuie. You choose when, but employers always find it hilarious when workers turn up drunk on a Monday.

  1. Eating

Anyone who goes on a diet in December is an idiot, obviously, but many people try to cut down on the calories in November in anticipation. This is a rookie mistake. What you need to do is go for the slow build. As with the drinking, this too depends on how greedy you are normally. The only way to find this out in any precise way is to do one of those food diary things for the first two-thirds of the year but I don’t recommend that personally, it’s the surest route to depression I’ve ever come across. Instead, just buy every ‘two-for-one’ deal your local supermarket is offering, apart from on fruit and veg. The trick here is to actually eat them all within the week rather than throwing them in the bin when they go out of date.

  1. Watching Crap Telly

You know it’s going to happen, there’s no point pretending otherwise. Rather than wait until the day itself and risk your brain melting out of your nasal passages, it’s best to take the ‘vaccine’ approach and expose yourself to controlled bursts of the virus so that a natural immunity is created. For this first week I’d suggest taking it slowly. Watch the first ten minutes of The Jeremy Kyle Show on the Tuesday, that’s more than enough for now.

  1. Arguing For No Reason

This one is the real downfall for many, albeit it’s generally caused by all or some of the above. Again, tolerance is the issue here. Depending on your circumstances you’ll know who you’re most likely to have a barney with. If you’re part of a couple, it’s them (and probably one or both of their parents). If you have kids it’s them and them (and probably one or both of your and their parents). If you’re single it’s whichever member of your family tends to point out that fact most often. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, it’s just that twat you’re related to or are forced to spend time with who annoys the hell out of you.
This one has to be handled delicately, but there are things you can do even in week one to pave the path. At this stage it’s all about passive aggression. If, for example, you’re likely to have a major blow-out with your partner on the big day, soften them up now by telling them they’re looking a bit tired these days. That way you’re making them begin to doubt themselves while sounding concerned. If it’s a parent or sibling, I’d suggest that don’t worry about it, I’m fine. You just get on with your stuff is a good route to travel at this early juncture. Remember, you’re just laying foundations at this stage. Kids are trickier, especially the younger ones. There are a couple of options here; it’s up to you to decide which works best for your brood. You could attempt the Santa only comes to good children thing, but to be honest that never works - they’ve got the attention span of a republican president, kids, they’re not the brightest. Far better is to start preparing them for disappointment early on. ‘Did you hear, Buzz Lightyear died! Woody’s terribly upset.’ Stuff like that.

Week Two:

Now you’ve established the prime concerns it’s simply a case of building on them. It gets easier from this point. Week two is all about edging yourself closer to the monster you’re going to become, so it’s not such a surprise on the day itself when you realise you’ve transformed into a complete dick.

1.  Drinking

This week, as well as adding to your overall consumption, I’d suggest you pick an evening or afternoon when it will be highly inappropriate for you to be anything less than sober, and get drunk. Nothing too serious at this stage, it’s still early days. A parent teacher night or a foster carer risk assessment meeting would be fine.

2.  Eating

Fairly straightforward this week. As you do your weekly shopping simply check the nutritional information on each item you pick up and discard anything with a saturated fat level of less than 30%.

3.  Watching Crap Telly

One episode on the day of your choice of the following: The Jeremy Kyle Show; Trisha; Hollyoaks and anything that starts with The World’s Weirdest/Fattest/
Youngest/Oldest/Most Pathetic … on channel five.

4.  Arguing For No Reason

Partner - Tell them you had a really intense dream where you were gay or straight, whichever is the opposite of what they think you are.
Parents - Point out all of the scientific studies that have come to light in recent years that prove they basically abused you as a child by feeding you whatever they fed you (there’s data out there that’ll prove anything).
Siblings/Cousins/Friends - Be moody for no reason, and tell them to piss off when they ask what’s wrong.
Kids - Inform them, solemnly, that Facebook has had a big argument with Myspace and they’ve both gone offline for a month to think about things. Then unplug the wifi till they go to bed.

Week Three:

It’s time to get serious. Next week is going to be a dress rehearsal so this is your last chance to iron out any kinks in your approach.

1.  Drinking

You’re going to want to add a shot of whisky (or the spirit of your choice) to your morning coffee every day this week. Suggest pub lunches to your colleagues when you can, and drink precisely 2.85 more drinks that you would normally. As much as is possible, eat food cooked in wine every night for dinner. After dinner, drink that crap you brought back from Greece last year. The green stuff.

2.  Eating

As mentioned above, you’re looking at rich dinners this week (see how the categories are starting to merge?). Whether you go for beef and beer, steak and red wine, chicken and white wine, sausages and Buckfast or beans and vodka (surprisingly good), you’re going to want to have chips with it, and none of this oven chip nonsense. They’re the result of a bloody battle between the producers of deep fat fryers and oven salesmen. It was a hellish melee and there were casualties on both sides. What neither side want you to know is that it’s perfectly possible to pour some oil into the oven tray and get the best of both worlds.
Have anything you like for breakfast and lunch this week, as long as you fry it in clarified butter.

3.  Watching Crap Telly

This is going to be difficult, I won’t deny it. Quick but painful is the only way forward here. Repeat what you did in week two but add, and I apologise for this now, anything with the word Celebrity in the title. I know, I’m sorry. It’s for the greater good.

4.  Arguing For No Reason

Partner - Work this into conversation at some point: ‘I can’t believe where I could have been if I hadn’t met you’. Then elaborate in whatever way best fits your delusions about yourself.
Parents - Say this: ‘I know you told me before, but are you sure I’m not adopted?’
Siblings/Cousins/Friends - Just keep being moody. They won’t care much, to be fair.
Kids - ‘Santa’s just another way of saying Satan, if you look at it closely.’

Week Four:

This is where it all comes together. This is when you get to test out whether your preparations have worked. The day itself is going to be a Perfect Storm of the four areas we’ve been practising and it’s time for a full on rehearsal. Brace yourself (Saturday is best for this):

Get up at 6.30 in the morning, for no reason. Make everyone else in the household do the same. This will immediately foster an atmosphere of malice and resentment that will come in handy later. If you have kids, secretly break their favourite toys and remove any and all batteries from the house.
Begin drinking before lunchtime, and encourage all those of legal age in the household to do the same. If they refuse for some reason, simply add brandy to every cup of tea or coffee they have throughout the day.
Tell all children that they are not allowed to go out and meet friends or partake in any social activities, as you think you should have a ‘special’ family day. Then do absolutely nothing to make the day special in any way.
For dinner, order a ridiculously large Indian take away meal and try to time its arrival with the X Factor starting on telly. Make sure the whole family is watching and eating, and drinking. Ensure you have control of the remote, and change channel every time Simon Cowell is about to completely destroy the hopes and dreams of a naïve, talentless innocent. The arguing will take care of itself from this point on, but if you feel the anger levels insufficient, spill curry sauce on everyone’s clothes. And on the sofa, carpet and any other soft furnishings available. I recommend Chasni sauce for this one, as whatever that red stuff they put in it is, it never comes out.
If all goes to plan, the entire family will be in massive huffs by 8pm. You and your partner will be flinging ridiculous, entirely irrelevant insults at one another and contemplating separation, any children under nine will be crying, while older kids will have long since stormed to their rooms, only to remember that they still have no access to the internet and so can’t announce on their status bars that their parents are ‘totally unfair’. Ideally, you will have removed the sim cards from their mobile phones too, to ensure they can’t use them for communication with the outside world.

As you go to sleep on the sofa/in the bath, you should feel a deep satisfaction at your efforts over the past month. Congratulations, you’re ready for Christmas. Happy holidays.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Right to Write

On the rare occasions I admit to normal people that I write a bit now and then one of the most common responses (once they stop laughing) is along the lines of - God, I wish I could do that. You’re so lucky to have that talent.
            This bugs me for three reasons. First - Why are you telling God, I’m right here!
            Second - I’m not special. People who write aren’t special in any way. We just choose to put in the time. It’s an option open to anyone. It belittles both of us to suggest I am in some way ‘blessed’ while you are not. Shoosh!
            Third (which is just a variant on second) - How do you know you can’t? Have you ever tried?

It’s a nonsense to suggest you have to be good at something to do it. I’m rubbish at pool, shite at relationships and a terrible drunk, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy attempting all three. You should see the state of some of the guys I know when they try to play football.
            Writing is just like anything else. If you like it, do it. Okay, maybe not anything else, I’m not advocating investment banking or the pillage of coastal villages here, but if it’s legal and you fancy a try, go for it.
            No one who writes got permission first. Most of us are pretty bad at it, too. Doesn’t stop us.
            There are several things I do in life secure in the knowledge that I’ll never make a living from them - writing is way down the list on that score. I know I’ll make no cash ever from annoying my dog, annoying my sisters, annoying my sisters’ children, talking bollocks with my friends, playing the guitar, taking the piss out of anyone I think can take it without going in a huff, watching a great movie, being far too anal about all things comic and sci-fi related, cooking a good cottage pie, arsing about on Facebook, paying over the odds for wine in Oddbins cos the girl who works there is pretty, arguing with my mum about the existence of God, eating my mum’s home made steak-pie while we argue about the existence of God, helping my dad with his computer related issues, using my dad’s computer related issues as an excuse to hang around with him, moaning about my job or eating fish suppers. None of these things will ever be my career, just as writing won’t. I still intend to continue doing every damn one of them for as long as I can.

There are a thousand reasons to write, and trying to get published is only one.
The act of writing is the thing, not the end result. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, a diary, a few scribbles over lunch or a massive brain-spill of vitriol in the evening after a day of work/family/lack of work/lack of family related stress.
            Writing is good for you, fact (if you need proof email me and I’ll invent some statistics). If you’re like my mum and believe in the soul, it’s good for that. If you’re like me and believe in steak-pie, it’s good for the cholesterol.
            Putting words on paper, or typing words on virtual paper, is one of the most satisfying and stress relieving activities available to us. It’s like lucid dreaming, but much easier.
            That bastard of a boss/colleague/smug twat you hate at work - write about him/her. Turn them into a demon and vanquish them. Smite that fucker all the way to Hell with words. It doesn’t matter if they’re crap words, you’ll still feel better, I guarantee it.
            The swine who cut you up on the motorway this morning? Write down what you wish you’d been able to say to them had you not been more concerned with avoiding a major pile-up at the time.
            The things you wish you’d had time to say to someone you’ve lost - say them. Write them down. It doesn’t matter if no one else ever reads them. By writing them, you’ve finally said them. Those words now exist, physically. You have no idea how much better you’ll feel for doing it.

 I know a man aged eighty-three, the single sweetest person I think I’ve ever met. This man has not had troubles to seek in his life. Problems, obstacles and tragedies I can barely imagine, he’s faced with humour and dignity. A few years ago he wrote down the story of his life. He didn’t do it because he wants to be an author, but rather because he thought it might make an interesting memento for his children and grandchildren when he’s no longer able to tell the stories himself. His daughter has taken on the task of typing up his work in order to have a couple of copies printed and bound, purely for the family to treasure. The satisfaction he gets from knowing his funny, heartbreaking and ultimately optimistic adventures will remain in existence long into the future is obvious to see whenever the subject is raised.

Writing purely for yourself is also a valid therapeutic pursuit. Many non-medical therapies are based around ‘talking’, but not everyone feels either the ability or need to go down that route. An alternative option is to write. Just write whatever comes into your head for, say, three pages every day. You don’t even have to go back and reread what you’ve written - indeed it’s often advisable not to. But the process of writing down what’s clogging up your brain can be an invaluable way of de-cluttering your thoughts.

If you fancy a go at writing fiction, go for it. Do it because you enjoy it though, not because you think it’s a viable career option - the truth is, it isn’t for the vast majority of us. No, do it because it’s a brilliant way to spend some time. Making stuff up is great fun, but it’s one of the first things we lose to adulthood. Writing fiction is a way of rediscovering the simple joy of creating stories and characters for our own entertainment, instead of letting the television do it for us.
            You may choose to tackle the climb up the hellish, corpse-strewn mountain at the summit of which stands the ‘ultimate goal’ of publication, and good luck to you if you do, I hope you get there. But if that’s the only reason you write I’d advise you to stop now, pack up your kit and begin the abseil back to firmer ground (either that or become a journalist) because you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Even if you make it to the top, be aware that there’s another, just as hellish, just as corpse-strewn edifice waiting for you called ‘getting enough people to buy it so you can have another go’.

Writing takes so much time that to do it for any reason other than the process gives you something you lacked - fun, perspective, a ‘release’, clarity - seems to me to be pretty daft. And, unless you choose to go for publication, the end result is far less important than the act itself.

Before you ask, the reason I, and others presumably, write for WWJ, given that there’s definitely no cash in it, is because it’s fun. Simple as that. For me there’s also the added bonus that I rarely know what I actually think about anything until I’ve written it down and had an argument with myself. Which is also fun, especially when I win. Plus Jane would shout at me if I didn’t.

So stop thinking you have to be a writer, whatever that is, to get anything from writing. Writing is a playground, a therapist’s couch, a chance to be yourself, an opportunity to stop being yourself, a way of saying the things you didn’t at the time, a way to put old spectres to rest and a tool to help you sort out the mess in your head. Best of all, it’s free and no one else ever has to know about it if you don’t want them to.
            Try it. You never know, it might take.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dog's Can't Look Up

The following appeared in the most recent issue of Words With JAM, was written hastily, and probably contains an element of Beelzebub's Legal Representative*


 [ri-surch, ree-surch]

diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.

Having been asked to do an article on ‘research’ I did what all self-respecting writers do these days and plugged the word into an online dictionary, hence the above. There were a few other definitions but I couldn’t be bothered cutting and pasting them. They were verbs or something.

I’ve managed to write two novels and about a dozen short stories without doing any research whatsoever. I’ve had the advantage of only ever writing about Glaswegian idiots though so much of the required knowledge was already built in. Now and then I’ve needed to check the odd bit of geography but Google maps has always sorted that out easily enough.
To be honest, the first thought to enter my brain when the ED asked me to write this article about research was - shit, she’s not done her research.
Writing is my hobby, the idea that it might involve actual effort and work beyond making stuff up and typing it is anathema to me. Example - I have only a vague idea what ‘anathema’ means, but can’t be arsed looking it up so it’ll have to do.
My philosophy on fiction is simple - it’s fiction, so make shit up. It’s all lies anyway, who gives a crap about where the lies stop and truth comes in? If it sounds reasonable, it is reasonable.
I don’t write literary fiction, so I don’t need to worry about being literal. I’m not a writer of historical fiction, so historical fact means nothing to me. I don’t do thrillers, so police procedure etc is meaningless. I can’t write Sci-Fi, so science can get to fuck.
I’m not discounting the time and effort many writers put into making sure they get every last factual detail right. Authenticity is important when endeavouring to recreate, or create from scratch, a world in which you hope the reader will become immersed and enmeshed. All and more of the above mentioned genres (and yes, literary fiction is just another genre) demand this, to one degree or another.
But, you know. Relax.
Yes, a particularly pertinent bit of research can, sometimes, give huge insight to either character or plot and if that’s the case go for it - explain exactly how that leather coin pouch could only have been made by a mountain-dwelling Argentinean with Oedipal issues.
If it’s not important though, it’s enough that you know it, don’t burden the rest of us with your studies. We don’t care.
Story matters; characters matter; humanity matters; entertainment matters (literary fiction gets a pass on that one); emotions matter. That’s where the truth needs to be. And that’s the stuff you can’t find on Wikipedia.
The Devil is in the details. Or God is in the details. Which is it, I can’t remember? Either way I’m not religious.
The one thing not to do, however, is get it wrong. If you’re making something up, make bloody sure you’re in ‘make-shit-up’ territory. And, whatever you do, don’t make shit up about anyone who’s real and still alive.
As an example (purely fictional and plucked entirely from the air with no basis in anything that’s ever actually happened, honest) don’t say that your main character’s sister goes on a bit sometimes and can be annoying as fuck when she has a wine or two. Or, you know, that Bono is a Nazi. Like Jesus was. Silly stuff like that.
I assume, of course, that you won’t take my word for any of this and do your own research before coming to a decision.
Don’t trust me for a minute, I just make shit up.

* I'm not 100% sure what that means and couldn't be bothered checking.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Success? Suck This.

It’s a fact of life that we all know someone who’s done better than we have. There’s no such thing as top or bottom in life, just endless rungs on the ever fraying rope ladder. Eventually that ladder will suffer a catastrophic failure and we’ll all tumble down to oblivion together. Does it really matter where we were before we fell? Are we so shallow that we care who falls first; who’s above or below us when the shit finally hits the razor tipped fan and we’re sliced into nothingness?
Fuck yes, it matters.
I played in a band at school with a guy who’s now the bass player for a very successful, internationally famous group regularly pulling in crowds in the tens of thousands throughout Europe. He owns a ranch in Texas. He has horses, for fuck sake! He grew up in Toryglen, he’s a ned! I obviously wish him all the very best in life. I also want to kick him in the face. Jealous? Yes, yes I am. Fair enough, I reckon. I’m sure his horses will protect him if I ever get close enough to threaten actual violence, he’ll be fine.
I had the agony of watching another guy I was at school with act in not one but two of the top rated shows on TV in the same weekend recently. One was a US show and the other was British. The thing they had in common was that they were both not only popular but also good (unusual these days). And he was brilliant in both. He’s a great actor, and I know for a fact he’s worked his arse off for years to get to where he is today - in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Prick.
What about writing, does the same nonsensical hatred of success apply? Of course it does.
Back on that withering ladder, I jumped a couple of rungs by winning a competition that got my first book published a few years ago. Those rungs quickly disintegrated, bringing me right back down to dirt before anyone made the mistake of envying me. Or did it?
Not too long ago a fellow struggling writer mentioned something about being chuffed that someone in my position liked his stuff. My position, I thought. What the hell does that mean? Then I realised he thought I was successful because I’d been published. For utterly altruistic reasons I chose not to disabuse him of this opinion - it wouldn’t be fair to shatter his illusions, I reasoned. Nothing to do with me liking the idea of someone thinking I was ahead of the game. Obviously I felt it would be rude to mention the mammoth sales my novel achieved - well into the tens of, oh, tens, by now.
The fledgling writers’ community is relatively small, and any perceived success is quickly shared and congratulated, at least publicly. Every time I see a new forum topic with a title like ‘Snagged an agent!’ or ‘Just got a short accepted!’ or even ‘Got a three book publishing deal with a proper publisher who pay advances and everything!’, I shake violently with delight.
Jealousy could be useful, though. I could write a new story about a really jealous writer or something - it’s all potential material.
The reality is that - and yes, I do think I speak for all of us here - there’s at least a wee bit of us that says How come they got it and I didn’t? How did they get so lucky, the bastards?
Because it has to be luck, doesn’t it? It can’t be because they happen to be a better writer than I am, that’s ridiculous. It can’t be because they’ve worked harder and longer, that’s nonsense. It has nothing to do with the fact they spend months tweaking and editing every word, every phrase, every sentence. Surely it couldn’t be the case that they’re simply more talented than I am? Nah, it’s just luck and they’re a bunch of bastards, that’s all.
Hopefully it’s only a little bit of my brain that thinks that way and I’m not overly bitter and mid-listed. I’d like to think I can learn from people who find their way round the maze and make it - yes, there may be practical things they’ve discovered that might make the path that bit smoother, but, in reality, I hope I can see where they went right with their work when I’ve gone wrong. I, at least when I’m sober, hope their example can help me become a better writer, not just a better salesman.
Because that’s the real truth, let’s not pretend. It’s easy to point out that Jordan or Dan Brown or whoever can’t write for tofu, but they’re not actually the competition. The competition is the many, many writers in the world who can write and write superbly. And the fact is, we know some of them. I know many writers way, way better than I am who haven’t made it yet (and I hate them all). Unless we actually want to write shite there’s no point getting upset when shite writers get ahead. And there’s no point in pretending it’s just down to luck, it isn’t. It’s down to talent and graft. And, sometimes, luck. Having talent and graft on our side doesn’t guarantee success, but if we don’t have both in our arsenal we have no right to complain. Luck is just, well, down to luck. No point worrying about that.
I think I’m a brilliant writer, but I like me. It’s not unlikely that my view of my own work is a wee bit on the biased side. It’s entirely possible that I’m just not good enough to get properly successful. Does that mean it’s time to give up? No, it means it’s time to get better at this thing I enjoy doing. Or stop doing it and do something useful instead.
But, if I want to get better, moaning about how jammy Russell Brand, or that guy/girl from school/online friend is isn’t going to help.
So, here’s a call out to all us wannabie writers - stop pretending celebrities have stolen our chances at getting published, or that the good writers just got luckier than we’ve been. Be better writers. If you’re the best writer you can be you’ve already won, anything else is gravy.
Dan Brown’s still a cunt, mind. And as for that T*%y C*^%£n …

* this will probably be an article in the next Words With JAM, so pretend you haven't seen it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's June, Time to Think About Xmas (yes this is an advert, but it's MY advert)

It’s (not) Christmas!
the ideal present for your friends and family this year...

What with it being the beginning of June, it’s high time we started thinking about Christmas here at WWJ Towers.
We have a proposition for you. How would you like to write something and NOT have it published? Would you be at all interested in submitting a short story, or maybe a poem, a recipe, some hints and tips, an essay even, to a Christmas anthology that will be guaranteed not to make you any money whatsoever; that won’t get you a publishing credit; won’t be available to buy online; will appear on the shelves of no shops anywhere? It won’t even have an ISBN number. Sounds good, eh?
Wait, come back. At least hear us out.

Here’s the plan – last year our editor put together a festive themed anthology for some of us to give our friends and family as Christmas presents, and the idea is to do the same this year. There will be two editions; one for the oldies and one for the kids. They will be fitted out with fancy bespoke covers and lovely fonts and things inside, just like real books. The difference is that they will be a one off. They will be professionally bound and printed on high quality paper, but only once. It won’t be print on demand, there will be no second editions, you’ll only have one chance to get your hands on copies. Orders will be taken in advance and that’s how many will be printed up.
This is very specifically NOT ‘publication’. We need to make that explicitly clear - it’s not going to make anyone famous or get them a publishing deal. It’s just a nice idea for a fairly unusual Xmas present for all those awkward buggers who are a nightmare to buy for.
Price per copy will be kept as close to cost as possible while making sure we don’t bankrupt ourselves.
So, what do you think? If you’re interested read on for the boring technical stuff. If you’re not interested go away so we can talk about you.

The boring technical stuff
Have they gone? Cool. Right, here’s the plan. Send us stuff, that’s the first thing. Around the 1000 word mark for stories or essays etc is the maximum. For poems we’re looking for no more than 30-35 lines. As ever with us these are guidelines only but please don’t go too far over them or we’ll have to hunt you down and kill you. Shorter pieces are welcome of course. Previously published material is fine.
You can submit up to one piece for each edition (Adult and Kids), but multiple entries are discouraged. Sending in more than one piece for each book won’t make us hate you or anything, but we might accidentally forget your birthday next year.
What sort of stuff do we want, I hear you ask. Well, anything really, as long as it’s vaguely winter holiday season related. We hold no truck with religious bias so feel free to go all atheist or pagan if you want. Fantasy, tragedy, comedy, drama, elves - it’s all good. All we’d ask is that you remember even the adult version is going to be given to various grannies and ageing aunties, so filling your submission with fuckity bollocky type language may not be the best idea (just this once). We therefore retain the right to edit all submissions accordingly.
Several of the regular WWJ contributors are likely to have bits and bobs included in the final package (hey, they have families they can’t be arsed buying presents for too). And yes, that includes Perry Iles and Derek Duggan. We haven’t yet decided whether this constitutes a selling point.
Last year there were so many submissions for inclusion that we went over the original estimated page count, which may mean we have to exert a bit of editorial judgement and therefore retain the right to refuse inclusion. Either way, contributing writers retain all rights to their works, including first publication rights. No ISBN, remember. However, some competitions and publications may be a little funny about you entering stories etc that have been printed up and bound in book format – just bear that in mind (though we won’t tell them if you don’t).

The final selection
Everyone who sends in a submission will be informed if they’re to be included by the beginning of September, and pre-orders will then be taken whilst we put the files together, make them look all fancy, and send you proofs to check over prior to print.
Another reminder is warranted at this stage - the whole point is for the people who have pieces in the books to give them to people they at least pretend to care about. There is no kudos to be gained from subbing stuff if you’re not interested in getting your hands on a couple of copies to show off with. Again - this will not make you famous, so don’t send anything in if that’s all you’re after. That would be daft.

We need your stuff sent in by August 14th, that’s non-negotiable (trying out the commanding voice, there).

All UK orders should arrive by December 1st. Non UK orders by December 8th. This depends on how crap the Royal Mail is being at the time.

Cost-wise, until we know the word count we can’t give a final figure, but currently we’re estimating roughly £5.90 per copy based on the maximum number of pages we feel is suitable for the adult edition, and slightly less for the kids’ version. This INCLUDES delivery within the UK. Non UK orders will be subject to an additional postage charge (sorry guys, but the exchange rate is good (for you) at the moment, so you’re probably laughing anyway at this point).
The final prices will of course be announced before any orders are taken.
Right, have I missed anything? Oh yeah, how to submit.

How to submit
Thanks to unavoidable pregnancy issues, one of our junior underlings will be taking initial charge of things. Don’t let that put you off, he’s well-trained. Do anything for a biscuit, that one.
So, send submissions as a Word Document (that’s .doc and NOT .docx) to, subject ‘Christmas Book Submission’. It would make the wee soul’s life a bit easier if you included your name, email address word length, and which version (adult or kids) of the book the submission is for at the top of the first page. You can also send any questions or queries you might have to the same place. He probably won’t be able to answer them, but it’s worth a try.
Is that all clear? What do you mean no?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Pleasantly Painless Path to Publication

How’s this for a dream timeline:
            Idea for book                         - 19th January, 2010
            Publication of book               - 4th March, 2010
Good, eh?
And no, it’s not a speed written vanity project run off at Protaprint and held together with a combination of Pritt Stick and desperation. Nor is it an update of a recently rediscovered Dissertation that’s been gathering cyber dust on a floppy disc for years and been quickly PDFd and sent to Lulu for a bit of POD ego-fuelled nostalgia.
Nope, it’s a proper book, containing 80,000 words of all new fiction; and it’s good fiction at that. How is this possible, you may ask. Surely no single author could work so quickly (not without the end product being a pile of shite, anyway)? Well, you’d have a point there. It isn’t the work of a single author. Nor is it the work of two, three or even four writers.
100 Stories for Haiti is, as the name not so much suggests as blatantly states, a collection of 100 stories put together to aid the relief effort for victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. It features original short stories and flash fiction from 100 different writers from all over the world, all donated free of charge. It is published on [MSOffice1] as an ebook and by Bridge House Publishing[MSOffice2]  as a physical paper and ink book, and every penny made is being donated to the Red Cross.
The project was devised by Greg McQueen, a UK writer based in the Netherlands. After watching the tragedy of the earthquake on TV he put out a call on his blog:
Dear Twitterverse, I can't keep watching the news about Haiti on television or trending on Twitter without doing something. I woke up this morning with the idea that together we could make a book and donate all royalties to the Haiti Earthquake Appeal.
Whether Greg realised at that point that, it being his idea, he would have to actually do all the organising, I’m not sure. What I do know is that word spread quickly through Twitter and Facebook etc and within a week or so he had over 400 story submissions from writers all over the place.
Greg looked at the submissions, had a panic attack, and recruited a band volunteers to help plough through them, narrow it down to the final 100 and then proof read and edit the resulting manuscript. That took slightly more than a week, the slouches.
Throughout this time Greg was negotiating with publishers etc to try to get the best deal he could on behalf of the Red Cross, and that’s exactly what he got - Mark Coker, founder of, quickly offered to host and sell the ebook for zero profit to himself or the site. Not even a smidgeon. Literally every penny paid for copies of the ebook goes directly to the Red Cross.
Gill James and the team at Bridge House Publishing stepped in at the eleventh (and a half) hour when Greg’s original print publishers pulled out. Other than basic print costs, again every penny will go directly to the Red Cross. Bridge House will make no money whatsoever from the project, whether they sell a dozen or a thousand copies.
The cover was designed, the typesetting done and the proofs approved before the end of February, and 100 Storied for Haiti was published both online and in print on 4th March. I have my copy here. It looks great.
If I’m being completely honest, I can’t yet vouch for the quality of all of the writing as I haven’t read it all yet. In fact, I know that one of the contributing authors is average at best, but that isn’t really the point. What I have read so far has been entertaining and fun. Some of it has been a little sad, much of it full of hope. With 100 stories to choose from, I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone will find something they like in there.
I can only assume the authors contributed their stories for purely altruistic reasons and gave no thought to the chance of another publication credit for their CVs, but again, that’s not really the point (in fact, I know that one of the writers included in the book spent no more than an hour polishing up a story he’d been working on a few weeks previously before sending it in, so he certainly doesn’t deserve much credit).
In the case of 100 Stories for Haiti, the writers are the least important people involved. Their job is simply to provide a small reward in exchange for you giving money. Greg and the team who put the book together are worthy of far more kudos than the authors, but even they are pretty far down the list. The people who buy the book and therefore assist the Red Cross are far more important. It’s their cash that can really do some good.
And then you remember those TV pictures from a couple of months ago, and the more recent ones from Chile, and the dozen other disasters that will happen around the world in the coming months, and you remember who actually matters.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Talking Proper

Let’s talk about dialogue.
            You know who your characters are; you know what you need them to do to get to that ending you have mapped out for the paragraph/chapter/novel/glass of wine you’re determined to finish before you have a bath.
            You know their back stories. You’ve possibly detailed those back stories already in chapter one (mistake). They’re all distinct, different people in your mind. One might be, I don’t know, an alcoholic police detective (also a mistake); another could be that detective’s grumpy, disbelieving boss who has marital troubles (honestly, don’t). Yet another may well be the innocent newbie who’s acting as the reader’s way in to this decadent world - could be a fresh-faced police officer or a witness to a heinous crime (just, you know, don’t!). You may also have your villain sorted by this stage. He might be a criminal mastermind who is using his previous history as the alcoholic detective’s ex-partner/mentor (please, please don’t) to taunt your heroes. You’ve probably written a first person scene with him already, where he does a murder or something.
            Eventually though, these people are going to have to speak to one another, and they’re going to have to do more than spout blatant exposition when they do.
            Problem is, the blatant exposition still has to be in there. Yes, you can cover some of it by ‘telling’ the reader, but we all know what kind of critiques that gets us (shudder).
            I mainly write comedy, which tends to be dialogue rich and exposition light, as a rule. Why the hell did I start this article with a clichéd crime novel set up then, you may be asking yourself. Frankly, I’m asking myself the same question. It’s a mystery. How have I managed to get 300 words into an article about dialogue without using any quote marks, you may also be asking yourself. That too is a mystery, and one which will almost certainly be edited out by the time you read this.

So, first rule of dialogue - make sure the things your characters say are things people would actually say in the given situation:
            ‘Jake Amos, you’re a goddamn disgrace to that badge you carry. That thing used to shine, do you remember that, eh? Or has the whiskey you pour into yourself turned that black, too?’
            Now, there’s nothing drastically wrong with that as a line of dialogue. It tells you what you need to know - Jake’s boss thinks he’s a drunkard and no good at his job because of him being a drunkard. It could easily be followed by a line like, oh -
            ‘This is your last chance, Amos. You let this girl die, you’re out of here, y’hear?’
            And Jake might say something along the lines of -
            ‘Yes, boss.’
            Or possibly, ‘Fuck you, boss. See you in the morning.’ Depending on how recalcitrant you’ve decided to make him.
            Nothing wrong with any of that, you might think. And you’d be right. Apart from one little thing. That thing being - IT’S RUBBISH!
            Why is it rubbish? Let’s think about it.
            This is reality, there’s your first point of reference. Any middle manager who has an employee with an obvious alcohol problem isn’t going to hand over an important piece of work to that person, certainly not one where lives may be at risk. No, a decent, conscientious manager would advise that employee to seek treatment in the hope that they might one day return to active duty as a useful member of the team, after whatever therapy was required. So, the dialogue might more realistically go something like:
            ‘Jake Amos! How you doing? Listen, Jake, I need to take you off the team for a while. You need help, bud. If you’re stupid enough not to realise that for yourself then I guess I’ll have to realise it for you, y’hear?’
            ‘Yes, boss.’
            Or possibly, ‘Fuck you, boss. See you in the morning.’ Depending on how recalcitrant etc. Either way, Jake’s going to hospital before he finds out a thing about the missing girl/child/racehorse. Of course this might cause you a few issues with the story you have in mind, but that’s your problem not mine.
Second rule of dialogue - don’t use it to tell the reader things the characters already know. Nothing sets off alarm bells in a reader’s mind like this common mistake does.
            ‘Jake, I know you’ve got a drink problem, I see it every day, for God’s sake! You have to forgive yourself for not getting to that little boy in time eight years ago. It wasn’t your fault that his junkie mother sold him for three grams of heroine and a fish supper to the local pimp, who went on to abuse the boy by ignoring child labour laws and forcing him to work as a window cleaner. Yes, if you’d made it to the flats five minutes earlier you might have been able to grab him before he fell, but how could you have known that at the time? How, Jake? Tell me how!’
            Do you see the problem? You might want the reader to know about Jake’s run in with the child on the dodgy ladder to give an insight into his scarred psyche, but having another character repeat his history, to him, is not the way to go about it. Real people just don’t do that.

Third rule of dialogue - actual human beings’ speech is rarely grammatically correct. News flash - even posh people use contractions!
            ‘I am coming with you, Jake; you do not have to face this alone. I will start the car while you are gathering your arsenal of firearms and squeezy cloths.’
            ‘You have got to be kidding. Fuck off please, boss. I will see you tomorrow morning.’
            See what I’m saying? It’s not only okay to mess around with the rules of ‘proper’ grammar when writing dialogue, it’s practically compulsory.

Fourth rule of dialogue - real people rarely use one another’s names when chatting.
            You can just about get away with this once at the beginning of a conversation, just to let the reader know who’s talking to whom, but once that’s established you don’t have to keep reminding us. Most humans who can read are relatively smart, they’ll figure it out.
            ‘Jake, put that chamois down, you’re going nowhere.’
            ‘But Felix, I have to go. I can’t let another child hit that pavement. Not again, Felix. Not again.’
            ‘I know, Jake. I know you can’t. We’ll do it together, Jake.’
            ‘Thanks, Felix.’
            ‘No problem, Jake.’
            It’s not right, is it?

Fifth rule of dialogue - go easy on the dialect/accent.
            ‘Away tae feck, ya bugger. Ah’ll dae whit the hell ah waant tae. Ah’m no’ kidding aboot wae this scunner any maer. Huv ye no’ seen how high they flats ur?’
            Phonetically and colloquially correct it may be, but easy reading it is not. Rule of thumb here is to check the name on your birth certificate. Unless it says Irvine Welsh, think seriously about how far you go.

Biggest rule of dialogue - copy (okay, learn from) other people who are better at it than you are.
            Personally I think there’s more to be learned from talented screenwriters than novelists in this area. For truly superb dialogue watch the films of Tarantino, Kevin Smith or Judd Apatow to name but a few. George Lucas, not so much.
            The best people to stea­—I mean learn from are even closer to hand than Blockbuster. They’re everywhere you go, in fact. Pay attention to the people you meet and interact with every day. Listen to the rhythm of their speech. Watch out for any quirks that help immediately identify that person - missing pronouns, stupid adjectives etc. Notice how friends develop their own shorthand when chatting.
            Whoever your characters may be - detectives, vampires, poets, lovers, misery merchants, alien sex marauders or underage window cleaners - you’ll be able to find a real life analogue somewhere in your life whose speech patterns you can borrow for that character. And no, I’m not suggesting you find an actual vampire or child window cleaner to copy, that would be far too time consuming. Just look for someone around you who speaks in a way that would suit the character you have in your head. Or, failing that, make all the baddies speak like your parents/teachers/priest and all the goodies sound like yourself. That ought to work.

Finally, a few words about using dialogue tags - where possible, don’t.

*This article was first published in Words With JAM Issue 2

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Words With JAM Opening Lines Competition

Over at WWJ we pride ourselves on filling every corner of each issue with useful, enlightening content. However, for some reason this month we found ourselves with a little bit of unused space, just there. Rather than let it go to waste we’ve decided to run a small competition. Who knows, we might even make it a regular feature. We could call it Competition Corner, or something equally clever. The Quiz Quadrant, maybe. Actually, since it’s not in fact a quiz I think we’ll stick with Competition Corner.
Anyway, for this first one, we’re concentrating on opening lines. We’re often told that the opening lines of any story are amongst the most important things we write, and that book deals can be won and lost on the strength of them. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but let’s pretend it is for the moment.
For the purposes of this competition we’re not looking for clever, deep, or portentous openings - that would be far too serious. No, what we want is funny ones. They may be from an existing piece of work or you might want to make something up just for this. Who knows, it might even provide the spark you need for that next mid-list classic you have brewing.
There is no actual prize for this one of course, but the ten funniest entries will be printed in the next issue, along with any weblinks the authors might wish us to include. Think of it as free advertising - which is quite a good prize, come to think of it.

The rules - pretty loose, really. Preferably no more than a couple of sentences. Definitely no more than 30 (ish) words.
Here are a couple of examples of the sort of thing we mean:

  • The first thing I noticed was her long, black, curly teeth.
  • I make a point of never drinking before eight o’clock. To be fair, I’m rarely up that early.
  • The instant I saw her she cast a spell on me. Bloody witch.

You get the idea. Multiple entries are welcomed, and all should be emailed to before, let’s say, the 5th of March.
Please put WWJ Opening Lines in the subject line of your email and include your entries in the body of the email itself. Attachments will be deleted unopened to reduce the risk of luncheon meat.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Self-publicisement [self-PUB-lis-size-ment]: noun the act of using self promotion to attempt to influence sales/marketability of one's novel/person/way of life/income/self-respect.

Question one   : why do you want to be a writer?

Answer one    : because it's a hobby I can do on my own.

Question two  : do you enjoy spending time alone?

Answer two    : yes, that's why I want to be a writer.

Question three : what is your dream lifestyle?

Answer three  : spending as much time as possible on my own, writing things I'd like to say to people if I knew any people.

Question four  : Are you insane?

Answer four    : flibble

Question five   : would you like to spend the next few years creating an online presence, cultivating Twitter and Facebook friends and followers, working dilligently on a blog where you enlighten anyone who is wierd and lonely enough to look as to your every thought, pretend to be happy all the fucking time, and generally share your most intimate thoughts with shitloads of people you have never and will never meet?

Answer five    : yes

Question six    : really?

Answer six      : yes, yes I would

Question seven: weirdo

Answer seven  : fair enough

Musicians, actors, even lowly artists, they love getting themselves out there in front of people and doing their wee dance. They care about being seen. They want to be seen. And they have the platform to get themselves there. They have raised stages in pubs and clubs; they have theatre auditions and gallery openings. They have the fact that it's easy to get drunk and still appreciate their work. They have the fact that the drunker you are the more you're likely to appreciate their work. They have the fact that, mostly, it only takes a couple of minutes for their individual contribution to that given work to be appreciated.
They have, over and above all that, though, a desire to be seen.
Writers? Not so much.
Writers want to be read, not seen, that's a wee bit different. Evidently. Writers want to be anonymous and faceless. Apparently.
Writers would prefer to be judged on the words they lay down rather than on the ones they speak on local radio, or whatever.
Writers, apparently, get to decide who they are in advance. Funnily enough, most of them are wise, kind people who wouldn't step on a badger if it had step-cancer.
And that was more than enough, a while back. Don't step on a cancer-ridden badger, don't be an evil despot with an eye towards world domination, and don't mess up your tenses. Get that sorted, yay, you're a writer!

Sadly, times have moved forward (or on. Forward is almost the same as on).
These days writers not only have to be able to write, they also have to be able to prove they have an e-audience in the many thousands or they've got no chance of a book deal.
One without the other wouldn't be such a huge deal. A highly talented writer might still win out even if their online network hadn't hit the fabled 2000 mark. It's unlikely, but you never know.
A middle of the road writer, though; a writer who is nothing more than adequate; a writer who's lucky if every 17th paragraph relates to the poorly thought out plot? A writer like me, essentially. Us guys, we're in trouble.
Why the fuck else would I be writing on this bloody blog, after all.

It's all about publicity now. Publicity is all that matters. Is the writing any good? Probably not (yes, I am talking about WYLMT). Is the story any use? I have no way of knowing (see). Would it matter if WYLMT was so extraordinary it created a new definition of the word 'fiction' (it isn't, and doesn't)?

If it was that, though. If it was that good, would it matter? Would anyone know? Would anyone know to care?

Answer eight : No, no one would care. Apart from the hundreds of people who are your artificial friends on Twitter and Facebook. And no, they're not real friends. That would be stupid. And no, they don't really care. That also would be stupid. They do read, mind. Give 'em some yarn and they'll read the thread. Some of them, at least.

Do wannabe writers have to do the blog/online/making a remorsful tit of ourselves thing? I think we probably do.
Does it have to be depressing? Not really. Depends how well you can utilise wine and/or beer.

Here's a radical thought:

It's just writing. it isn't that precious. They're only words. We use up hundreds of them every single day, but they're all still there of an evening.

Give them a break. Light a fire. Have a think.

See what you dream