There were at least five ways home from The Saracen’s Head, and Stan couldn’t think of any of them. He adjusted to the sharp shock of the winter darkness instead, lit a fag, and smoked it savagely as if it had in some way done him greatly wrong. Behind himself, the lights of the pub shut off one by one. Loneliness bit down. Stan Metcalf stoically lit another off the butt of the first. It was late, he was in trouble. Ruby would be waiting.
My dear friend, Colin Phillips, Marxist, Existentialist, cyclist and the last of the ‘Soho Poets,’ died earlier today after a long battle with cancer. This is something like an obituary, although my chronology might be slightly out, so I’ll apologies to friends and family in advance. Anyway, Colin was a proper Cockney, born in Brick Lane to a Quaker family at the start of World War Two; his father was a cabbie and his mother stayed at home.
The was something I did for the Unthank School blog last Christmas that I’d forgotten about until I spotted Ashley’s list while browsing his blog just now. The idea was for Unthank staff to briefly list and discuss five books that we had read in 2015, regardless of publishing date or genre. This was mine…
I think it's time we explored self-publishing on this blog. I've helped enough people through it professionally, and for the first time in my writing life I've eschewed traditional publication to put a book out myself, Shark Alley. This was a project I wanted total control over, from content, structure and visual style all the way down to final word count. I also wanted to release it as a free online serial, which I was never going to get a publisher to sign off on. Also, to be honest, self-publication is presently the most realistic option for most new novelists out there. It was never easy to get traditionally published at the best of times and, believe me, these are the worse. So, if you're going to go DIY, just remember: Do it Big, Do it Right, and Do it with Style..
We were approaching the islands of Madeira, about midway in our journey, the day we lost a man and a horse. The animal belonged to Sheldon-Bond, and he was considerably more put out by its passing than he was that of the human being that accompanied it into the void. The young subaltern remained in a foul humour for the rest of that miserable and ill-omened day, his unfortunate man, Private Dodd, getting the worst of it. I tried to avoid him, as there was already bad blood between us, but this was difficult given the confines of the ship. As he stormed around the deck like a vengeful wraith in a graveyard, I could read the message in his eyes when they connected with my own quite clearly.
Last week, I brought another USW ‘How to Write a Novel’ course to an end, after three very pleasant and enjoyable months of writing and sharing. It was more a case of ‘Au Revoir’ than a fond farewell though; as always happens, friendships were forged and now we’re all linked up on Facebook, an informal writer’s group that expands with every course. Some students, meanwhile, are staying with us at the school and moving on to Ashley Stokes’ Online Workshop to develop the manuscripts they’ve been writing on my course. This happen a lot, because once people find their way to us – the friendly alternative to all those institutional and corporate creative writing programmes – they tend to stay. There’s a definite sense of family. And don’t get me wrong, we have all the knowledge and expertise of the professors, in fact some of us are professors, we just prefer to be a bit more practical and down to earth about the whole business of, you know, actually writing, rather than just talking about it.
n a blog for the Unthank School of Writing entitled 'How To Write A Novel and What It Did For Me,' student Jackie Harmon talks about the learning/teaching experience on an online creative writing course designed and taught by yours truly. The last course has just ended and places are still available on the next, which begins in May. You'll find details here. Jackie Harmon, like me, has an academic background, and is currently working on a historical novel set in the late-nineteenth century. From what I've seen so far this is going to be an impressive debut...
It’s one of life’s truisms that reading widely and critically is essential if you're serious about writing. You don’t need a degree in literature to be a critical reader; a lot of it is good, old fashioned common sense, and you’ll have most likely been reading this way naturally for years already, so naturally in fact that you might not be aware that you’re doing it. The next stage, especially if you’re beginning to write your own fiction, is to focus much more consciously on the individual components of narrative structure, and to apply this knowledge to your own writing.
Jack Vincent used to be famous, part of a rising generation of literary authors that included Dickens, Ainsworth and Thackeray. Now he’s a nobody, scratching a living as a freelance journalist writing for a penny a line. Worse, the only job he can get is on a troopship bound for the frontier wars of colonial Africa. Outed as a friend of Dickens at the captain’s table, Jack recounts the events that have brought him to this fallen state. It is a journey that begins in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison and ends in the shark infested waters of the Western Cape and his berth on the HMS Birkenhead, the Victorian Titanic.
Here’s something that comes up a lot when I'm discussing structure with early-career novelists... When starting a novel, you essentially have two structural choices. You can begin at the beginning, and move forward using a linear narrative, or you can begin in medias res – ‘in the middle of things.’