Tuesday, 29 July 2008


I've had an idea for a novel for some time now, although it so far exists only in my mind and in the A4 exercise book I bought especially for its notes. Actually, I have also written the first three chapters (which already need changes, but we won't go there...yet).

A novel is the kind of writing I plan, being anal and all, and I have had a rough chapter outline in the book for longer than I care to admit. I have been grappling though, with the main subplot, trying to figure out how to do the research I need to do without actually doing the research. Not because I'm trying to avoid doing the research for the heck of it, I actually have good reason (this time). If I engage in the research I need to do, it is more than likely I will get hooked in and waste many many hours, not to mention develop anti-social behaviours.

In the car a few days ago, where many of my good ideas come from, the subplot all fell into place, in a way that won't really require any research. Now, that's the kind of idea I like. And now it's recorded safely in my A4 book, waiting for more notes to keep it company...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Something else that happens every year while reading submissions for page seventeen happened yesterday.

I came across the most fabulous story. The kind that you can't put down. The one that breaks your heart/makes you laugh/insert appropriate response. The kind that forces you to stop reading submissions for the day because you couldn't possibly stop thinking about this one for long enough. The story you just know you're going to fight for to make sure it finds its way to the pages. Not that there'll be any fighting necessary, because it's just so damn good I know the entire editorial team are going to love it too.

Monday, 21 July 2008


Every year I go through some of the same issues while reading page seventeen submissions, and in thinking about whether I'd like to publish each piece, I wonder what is okay to edit and what is okay to not. And every year it seems the same things drive me nuts.

My favourite thing to loathe is the exclamation mark. Or, more precisely, the dozens of exclamation marks that appear per page in some stories. Not that I'm suggesting I enjoy loathing them. Perhaps just that they always feature top of the list.

It has been said that the use of exclamation marks is a sign of a beginning writer, and that one single story should never contain more than one exclamation mark, and even then, that it should be absolutely necessary.

I am not sure I agree that the use of (excessive...ie more than one) exclamation marks is necessarily a sign of a beginning writer. Especially as page seventeen publishes several pieces from new writers in each issue, and it is true that the bulk of submissions are not riddled with them. Anyway, many new writers are good writers, just without a publication history.

No, I suspect that it is more accurate to suggest that 'good' writers do not need to use them, so don't.

However, this doesn't help me decide whether to include a piece or not. Some stories with excessive !!! are otherwise very good, and indeed worthy of publication. But I cannot bring myself to leave all those !!! in. I have mixed feelings about whether, as editor, it is my place to 'play' with this. In the past, I have both rejected pieces based almost purely on this, as well as having published pieces after removing a hearty portion of them, if not all.

In reading this year's lot, it seems some things are not destined to change. One story I just read must have at least fifteen on every double-spaced page. Not only that, in most cases, the writer has used language that expresses the exclamation competently, and so it seems to me a matter of both showing and telling the reader (another no-no).

So what do you think? Is it okay for the editor to delete as many !!! as they feel is appropriate, or is this part of the writer's style that should not be touched?

By the way, I love a good use of !!! in an email...they do have their place.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Naughtiness. And raspberries.

The idea of writing a story feels naughty. The kind of naughty associated with a double serve of Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Raspberry Pudding Cake (not that I suffer this, but I have heard...).

July and August, and perhaps some of September have become part of a forced sabbatical from writing stories, poems, and anything really, aside from notes in my journal, and, well, lists (and now this blog). I'm too busy reading other people's stories and poems, trying to work out which pieces should go into page seventeen. And then doing all that's associated with getting them in there. With assistance, of course.

The time off works well. Without doubt, before I let myself write properly again, I am itching to get to it. Usually not this early, but that's not something to complain about. Not if I am good about maintaining notes in my journal.

Although I must confess to writing a poem a few days ago. Not the same as writing a story, either in time commitment or in personal satisfaction, but maybe it was what spurred on this creative energy that has me reaching for the journal to note down bits and pieces that may find their way into a story another day. Sometimes it's difficult to avoid writing the actual story, or part of it, but it's all about keeping that excitement there and letting the story brew.

And of course, if I need a proper distraction to make sure I write only notes for another day, other than reading more submissions, I can always turn the oven on and check that I have a stock of raspberries, eggs...

Thursday, 17 July 2008


I think I started writing lists back at uni, when, on my day off, I needed the discipline to study. Especially in the colder months. I'd make a roast every Wednesday, just so I had an excuse to have the oven on for most of the day, and I'd settle in at the kitchen table with the books.

Back then my lists used to include things like showering, eating breakfast, and on days when I needed a particular boost to get started, maybe even making a cup of coffee. Very sad, I know, but it worked. I'd have at least two things on my list ticked off before I even got started, and an amazing feeling that I was already well on my way to the end of the list.

Now, my lists don't include the silly stuff, but they do help me organise myself. Not sure if it's because there are so many things that need organising, or if my brain is breaking down with age. Probably both.

There are many lists. Separate ones, for different tasks, and then the ones I need to have for the days I have time to be productive. The 'to-do' list. All the lists are kept in a little book, kind of like another writing journal, except the shopping list, and I have found the key to good list writing is to write the list the day before you plan to attack it. True, it sounds kind of obsessive, but I will put off worrying about that until I start the list that helps me keep track of all the other lists.

I have been wondering though, why I have never created a character who is list-obsessed. Maybe I should add that to the 'story ideas' list?

Friday, 11 July 2008

It's taken some time, but...

I'm finally here. Yes, I've been arm-twisted into the world of the blog, and perhaps I would have made it slightly sooner, but for the difficulties of coming up with a title.

So much for creative writing!

Although I do believe that titles are by far the most difficult part of a piece of writing. It's great when a title jumps out at you after you've finished a story or poem, and you just know it's perfect, but when that doesn't happen, it can be agonising.

And worse with a blog, as at least with a story or poem, I know what I have written about already. Anyway, hopefully I've chosen well. Too bad if I haven't.