Month: August 2016
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It’s a story that many of our regular readers will be familiar with: way back towards the end of 2008, a group of us – four writers and one illustrator/photographer – bandied about ideas for a new anthology. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity for mainstream writing, we wanted something open to popular fiction. If you look at a lot of the existing journals, you don’t really see stories that might’ve been penned by a popular fiction author, such as Stephen King, JK Rowling, Lee Child, Matthew Reilly, Di Morrissey, and so on.
So that was our goal. We wouldn’t exclude literary fiction, but we ultimately wanted to be open to everything as long as it was an enjoyable read – the sort of read where you wish you could sink right into the story, where you want to keep reading just a bit more, and where you feel regret and loss when you know you’re coming to the end.
The size of the book was meant to resemble the old paperbacks. Nobody else was doing that. All the anthologies were (and are) big. So we’d be novel (no pun intended) that way. As for the name? We bandied lots around, until our director of publishing, Blaise van Hecke, suggested we just call it ‘untitled’. It worked not only out of frustration of trying to find this title (I can’t convey how mindlessly long this search went on), but because it embodied that the anthology could be about anything.
The first issue launched in 2009 – a learning process for us, as we liaised with authors, edited stories, and dealt with printers and distributors and bookshops. There’s a lot of work that goes into any anthology – a lot of work. And it’s continued to be a lot of work throughout, with an issue almost every year – until this last one, which took longer.
Here’s an insight into putting together an anthology:
- Advertising for submissions. We put a submission call out through all forms of media – Writers Centres, Facebook, word of mouth, etc.
- The initial reading of stories. This is an ongoing process, too. You don’t just read twenty stories, pick ten, and away you go. Sometimes, hundreds and hundreds of stories are read. At least two editorial interns read every story. Everybody reads the longlists. An editorial intern also has to log all the stories into a database.
- Content meetings. We meet with interns and discuss stories. Interns often learn here what makes a good story from an examination of prose, a study of character, a dissemination of structure, and an exploration of causality and motivation. Often, we might come to a content meeting with twenty longlisted stories, and pick one.
- Editing. We go back and forth with the author to edit their story and get it to a place that we’re all happy with. Some stories only need an edit or two. Some go through ten or so edits. (As a note, most authors are brilliant through this process.)
- Order determination. A lot of people probably don’t realise this goes on, but we try to work out a balanced order for the stories. For example, we mightn’t want two tragic stories in a row. So it’s important to get this right.
- Layout. The anthology is laid out in InDesign.
- Cover Design. Usually, one of the stories inspires the cover.
- Proofreading and taking in corrections. This is done repeatedly so, hopefully, you don’t find any errors in the pages. (And we don’t want to know if you do!)
- Off to the printer. We wait for the final product.
- Organising the launch. This means organising the space, organising the catering, coordinating who’s going to come and read, finding somebody to launch the issue, working out the order of the launch, and the list goes on.
The launch is a culmination of all the hard work – a lot of it anonymous, much of it unpaid for interns (other than for what they learn) – and becomes a celebration of the achievement, a proclamation that we’ve succeeded.
We’re fortunate enough to have award-winning writer Laurie Steed launch issue of [untitled] on Saturday, 27th August at 3.00pm. If you’d like to join us, please drop us an email, as it helps with catering. Or you can check out our Facebook event here.
August 18, 2016
Be honest. Your impulse might be to say you do. But think about it. Think about your writing. Think about the way characters react. Think about how scenes unfold. Are they uninhibited? Are you uninhibited in writing them?
Astonishingly, many writers aren’t.
And they aren’t for a very simple reason.
What would people think?
Admit it: that’s an alert in your head.
What would your partner, you family, your friends, the general public, etc., think about the scene you wrote where the killer garrottes his victim, bathes in the gore, and then plays a spot of mini golf with the kids? Or the scene where the sweet, modest loving couple engage in bondage behind closed doors? Or when the tough, macho husband breaks down, and cries on the floor of the kitchen? Would your partner, your family, your friends, think you a creep? Or sick? Or gushy? Better to temper it all.
This isn’t about being shocking. Anybody can throw in a scene to shock, and sometimes authors do, because they feel that’ll captivate. It might, but not in the right way. Often, a reader will frown and even if they don’t recognise the scene as gratuitous, they’ll know there’s something not quite right.
Be true to what’s required in your writing. If that means you need to write an emotional scene which is going to have people thinking you’re just some big softy, write it. If you need to write a violent scene which is going to make people think you’re a sicko, write it. Whatever the scene, write it as it needs to be, devoid of boundaries, unfiltered, and free of judgement.
This applies to any form of writing. You could be a poet, you could be a novelist, you could be writing your biography.
You’ll know when you’ve hit a scene where you’re holding back. You’ll feel that tentativeness about the writing. It might even become diplomatic, couching the expression so that it won’t be confrontational, nor an indictment on you as a person. Other times, you’ll be racing through scenes and thinking you’ve nailed them, but because you’ve been doing this so long you’ve just learned to ignore your instincts. Have you been as real as possible? Have you been truthful with yourself and the narrative?
If you’re not going to be honest with your writing, be honest with yourself.
August 11, 2016
This has grown so overused, it’s almost become a cliché. ‘Suddenly, this happened.’ It’s such an easy – and melodramatic – way to show urgency.
Think of ways you can communicate suddenness in the writing itself. For example, instead of
- Suddenly, the door opened
- The door crashed open.
This is not to say you can’t ever use ‘suddenly’. Just make sure it’s required.
This is another version of ‘suddenly’. A lot of the time, you’ll find you can just cut it out entirely. Using the (first) example from ‘Luxuriance’:
- Just then, the phone rang.
This could just read:
- The phone rang.
Again, if you need something to happen ‘just then’, think about how you can express that through the writing itself.
‘However’ has become a cheat, a way to transition from one subject to another without any real logical evolution.
- Today, I am writing a blog. However, the sky is blue.
There’s no logical evolution there, but it sounds like a feasible transition due to the use of ‘however’. Think about how you’re getting from Point A to Point B. There should be a causality in how that happens.
Clichés simply have no meaning any more. If somebody tells you their ‘blood ran cold’, beyond your basic understanding that it’s meant to communicate terror, what does it mean? Think of relatable ways to say things.
We all have our favourite words and phrases. In this piece, it was ‘ominously’. Try to identify your own. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes (e.g. a workshopping group, an editor) can help you find yours. Once you know of their existence, you’ll find yourself mindful of using them.
Keep it simple. You don’t really need to venture too far away from ‘said’ and ‘asked’. If you do, don’t get too fancy – you never want to use an attributor which is going to make the reader stop and wonder why that word is there.
‘It’s quite hot.’ What does that mean? How much is ‘quite’? Stay away from weak modifiers (e.g. quite, somewhat, practically, basically, virtually).
Make sure your narrative sets up what’s going to follow. Don’t throw in details later just because you’ve forgotten something should’ve been introduced earlier.
One of the best examples of foreshadowing is the movie The Sixth Sense. When the twist comes, we understand everything that we’ve been seeing in a new context. At no point do we feel either cheated or confused.
We need to introduce backstory to drive our narrative. Just be mindful of how far it goes. A good way of identifying exposition is how grounded is it in the current setting? Or do we digress into a shapeless overview of the past? Exposition, at times, is necessary and unavoidable. Just make sure it doesn’t take over.
What tense are you writing in? Stylistically, you might fluctuate from one tense to the other, e.g. you might be writing in past tense, but when something shocking happens, you bring the story into the present tense. There’s a justification in a shift here. But, often, authors flip around unknowingly. Be conscious of the tense you’re in.
Obviously, there’s plenty of other issues to look for in writing, but these are amongst the most popular.
What you’ll find as you grow aware of these issues is you’ll be challenged to find new and innovative waves of expression that avoid all the problems that can make writing so pedestrian.
August 4, 2016
Just then, the phone rang. It was a friend, wanting to talk about a book he’d read. I waited impatiently while he rambled on. Just then, I had another idea for my blog. It just came to me, all of a sudden.
However, I had to get rid of my friend. It was rude. However, when I had an idea for something I wanted to write, it’s all I cared about. I tried to hurry my friend on. However, he wasn’t going to be rushed. Just then, the doorbell rang. I told my friend I had to go and rushed down the hall. Suddenly, my cat jumped out and tripped me.
However, I saved myself at the last minute. I peeked through the peephole and my blood ran cold. It was the police. Or at least I thought it was. Their uniforms were a ghastly pink, like brain matter. I felt shivers all over. Suddenly, they started to knock on the door. Just then, another idea came to me for my blog. However, I couldn’t keep the police waiting. With a lump in my throat, I opened the door.
The police peered ominously at me. I felt like a drowning man. The mood was ominous.
‘Hello, sir,’ one of them announced suddenly. He was tall, blond, and had blue eyes.
Just then, the other one thrust out their hand for a handshake. I flinched. However, I recovered and shook their hand. The hairs on my neck stood up. This was ominous. Suddenly, they smiled. Just then, my apprehension broke suddenly into a million pieces.
Suddenly, I actually started to breathe easier. Just then, I was somewhat relieved. However, I basically have a fear of authority. It’s quite debilitating. And practically makes me useless in these situations. I’m totally out of my depth. Absolutely. However, I do the best the can.
‘Can I help you?’ I queried. ‘Are you the police?’
‘We are the Writing Police,’ the one who shook my hand declaimed. Did I mention she was a policewoman? She was a woman. ‘Are you aware of the issues in your writing?’
Issues? I thought. What issues? I jolted awake this morning all of a sudden like somebody had walked over my grave. However, I didn’t think my day would turn out so ominous. All I ever wanted to do was write. Just then, the memory of my parents giving me my first notebook came to mind. That’s when I fell in love with writing. That’s all I did in primary school. In high school, I was a geek who loved to read and write, enduring the scorn of the cool kids—
‘We don’t need your exposition,’ the tall blond cop flouted suddenly.
‘However, you should be wrapping this up,’ the policewoman said ominously just then.
‘This?’ I extemporised.
The tall blond cop bristled. ‘The suddenlys, the just thens, the howevers, the clichés, the overuse of ominously as a favourite word, the tenses, the ridiculous attributors, the clichés, the useless modifiers like “quite” and “somewhat” and “practically” and all that, forgetting to introduce details, the overlong digression into a backstory, the … the … the …’
‘The … the … ’ the policewoman refashioned.
‘The … the …’ the tall blond cop denounced.
‘The luxuriance,’ the policewoman finished. ‘Just put a stop to it. Okay?’
They nodded, smiled and left.
I closed the door and got back to my blog.