Monday, 7 May 2012

Busy Bee

I’ve been very busy lately, too busy to write which is not good. In fact, too busy to even answer emails. What does that mean? My life is too full? I’m doing too much? I need to make drastic cuts?

So exactly what have I been doing?
Some time ago, I voluteered to be a judge for the Chris Evans Breakfast Show 500 WORDS competition. I spent some time reading through children’s competition entries. I’m used to reading stories written by adults, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover the high quality of writing including originality, plot, characterisation, and language. I was constantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Over 74,000 stories were received from children all over the UK. After the volunteer judges had chosen their shortlisted entries, the Literacy Trust helped to whittle it down to a Top 50 shortlist! The winners will be announced Friday June 1st 2012 from 0630 live on Radio 2. You can have a look at the shortlisted entries here:

What else have I been doing?
I’ve been practising what I preach by getting myself a reputation and raising my writing profile! I’ve entered a few competitions, this also takes enormous amounts of time. First I had to find a finished story, one that was appropriate for the particular theme or style of the competition. Then I had to read, re-read and read (out loud) again and again. But, there does come a time when a story feels finished. Something happens, it’s an interesting process, and then all of sudden, I can let it go, fend for itself in the world. One story that I recently entered for a well known competition, had taken nine years to finish. I’m pleased to report that five of my stories have either been short or longlisted.

The short story, The Locket, with the new Writer
The Swimmer, with Flash 500 (flash fiction)
The Tree, by Spilling Ink Flash Fiction Competition
I’ve only just started sending work off to competitions. They have hundreds and hundreds of entrants, so I’m very pleased to have been longlisted. I now need to re-edit and re-read to see how I can improve the writing.


I’ve been running various Greenacre Writers Workshops (with fellow coordinator Lindsay Bamfield). The recent ‘Get Yourself a Reputation’, and ‘Ways into Creative Writing’, were very popular. And these do take some organising. Lindsay and I always get together at least a couple of weeks in advance of workshops where we tend to brainstorm ideas. Unfortuntely our brainstorms always seem to end up giving us more work to do. At one of the sessions, a couple of years ago, I came up with the idea of running a short story competition. This was a huge amount of work albeit enjoyable. From the initial design of the poster, to the list of rules (much brainstorming), the launching in local Finchley Waterstones, the sending out of flyers, advertising on the Internet, plus the many miles walked distributing, to the reading and shortlisting (plus of course friendly arguing) and finally the publishing online of winners. Then there was more designing, this time of the anthology, collating and editing, ordering ISBN’s, and finally sending off to the publishers. And we still weren’t finished, then began another round of posting, this time the anthology, to writers, friends and family who had pre-ordered copies. We are just about to re-launch the second one at the Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival which incidentally was another offshoot from one of our brainstorms. This time it was Lindsay, who had been muttering for some time, words like festival, open mike, authors, which I kept pretending not to hear. It would just be a small get-together, she said. A tiny, mini event. The Greenacre Writers (not so mini) Mini Literary Festival, was born. And then more work, the coaxing and persuading of authors to read their writing. One famous author was offered chocolate as a bribe and although he thought we were ’…very funny, and all your inducements very generous. But I'm afraid, despite the temptation, I'm going to have to decline your kind offerI wish you all the best for the Festival.’ I won’t say who this tempted author was, just that he was well-mannered and delightful, in a Mr Darcy sort of way. And so the work began, the design of the poster, the design of the tickets, checking out the venue…and so on. And now it’s just a few more weeks to go before we get to meet our superstar writers. 

Birthday Celebrations

Whilst all the above organising has been happening, I managed to find time to celebrate my birthday, courtesy of Lindsay, who took me to the South Bank for the World Book Night event.

The first 20 minutes or so were taken up with thank yous and a general introduction to World Book Night. Margaret Atwood was followed by the very funny Hardeep Singh Kohli who was our host for the evening. There were readings from some of the World Book Night titles by authors and celebrities including Mark Haddon, Mark Billingham, Meg Rosoff, Iain M Banks, Martina Cole, and the brilliant Hip Hop Shakespeare Company. Olympic poet Lemn Sissay woke the audience up when he read Shakespeare and other writers read some poetry, Kathy Lette on Dorothy Parker, and Geoff Dyer on Billy Collins. David Nicholls read from WBN book, Great Expectations with a fabulous impression of Miss Haversham. Owen Teale literally became Brian Clough when he read from David Peace’s The Damned United. Colin Salmon gave a powerful reading from Remains of the Day.

Some of the authors read from their own novels Mark Haddon read the opening of his new novel The Red House and the audience were captivated by Turkish author Elif Shafak reading from her new novel Honour.
My favourite was Andrea Levy’s reading from Small Island, the dog shit scene, brilliant.
And when I heard Jon Ronson’s hilarious piece of writing about trying not to teach his son the worst swear word of all, I was spellbound. This, I thought, was how to write a short story.

Apparently, some people said, that compared to last years event in Trafalgar Square, the event lacked some of the excitement. Presumably, because, we were all sitting down behaving ourselves and listening and we were warm. However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was the perfect literary treat for my birthday, so thank you to Lindsay.
There’s more?
Looking back at all the interesting things I have been doing recently, I notice a theme. I may not have been sitting writing, but I have been reading, editing, brainstorming writing exercises, speaking to authors and attending literary events. And all this is without the various Greenacre Writers groups, Finish That Novel 1 and 2, Short Story Group and Memoir and Autobiography Group (MAG) that meet up monthly and are often hosted by myself, so of course I have to hoover occasionally, and dust and clean bathrooms, scrub floors…my life is pitiful really. And there’s the day job – three days a week as a Senior Library Assistant in a medical library. Oh and of course, nearly forgot (am about to have a nervous breakdown), the Greenacre Bicycle Rally!! But that as they say is another story, and another one, and another one….