Saturday, 30 June 2007

Daily Mail Book Club: The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

She's known for her gripping yarns, so it's no surprise that Maggie O'Farrell's latest book – about a woman who is locked up in a lunatic asylum – is this month's Daily Mail Book choice. The Mail's Nigel Jones reports here:

Friday, 29 June 2007

Busy Week . . .

It’s been a busy week, working on The Belfast Boy rewrites and still dealing with the probate issues following my dad’s death. But at least I haven’t been flooded, unlike half the rest of the country. Anyway, I’ve finished with The Belfast Boy for now – I’ve made all the changes I think it needs, so now I have to leave it in a quiet dark place to brew. I’ll read it through again in a few weeks, at which time I shall no doubt see a hundred and one new things that need doing (or undoing!).

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to meeting up again with my fellow emerging novelist Julia Buckley. We’ve both been invited to a book launch party in Brighton next week (of which more later).

I heard some disturbing news about a well-established magazine for writers, which I won’t name, from a writer-friend of mine. It seems she sold them a couple of articles, which they published, but when she tried to bank their cheque she found it had been stopped for no obvious reason, leaving her bruised and out of pocket. I’ve had problems with this particular publication myself, having waited six months for payment for a story two years ago. Another friend of mine only got paid for his story when he threatened to sue them. I understand the magazine in question is now ‘under new management’, so hopefully matters will improve. But that’s just another example of how vulnerable we ‘lucky’ writers are!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Writers' Block

A miserable day today – I really struggled to get anything done. The Secretary has swanned off to a Canary island for a fortnight, leaving me sans editorial advice just as I’m getting to the crucial stage of The Belfast Boy. You can’t get the staff these days.

To make matters worse, the postman brought me another rejection letter this morning (very polite, welcoming further offerings, but a rejection nevertheless). I have a Churchillian quote on my office wall: ‘Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm’. It’s meant to help, but some days it just doesn’t.

One bit of good news, though, is that another of my short stories, The Piano Teacher’s Husband, has made the longlist for the Cadenza short story competition. I found the following message on their website:

Due to a record number of entries, results from our March 2007 competition have been delayed, but we are currently working to bring them to you. You can see the longlist here.

Somewhere in there is my story! So that’s encouraging, at least.

Many thanks to Michael Allen for bringing three articles by M.J. Rose to my attention. M.J. Rose describes herself as ‘the internationally bestselling author of eight novels and two non fiction books’, and earlier this year she republished on her blog three articles on the 'luck' required to be a successful writer that she originally wrote for Poets & Writer's magazine in the US. Okay, they have a clear American slant, but they are just as relevant to us Brits. They appeared on her blog on 11June, 12 June and 13 June.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Lloyd Jones - Mr Pip (Review)

On Friday, I was sent a pre-publication copy of Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones to review (oddly, it arrived a week after its publication date). Now, I hadn’t registered this novel on my literary radar for some reason. So I began reading it with no prior knowledge of it, and not knowing what to expect.

The narrator, Matilda, is a young woman from the Pacific island of Bougainville, which not only has the richest copper mine in the world, but is also an immensely fertile source of fish and fruit. In 1990, the government of Papua New Guinea took action against the Bougainville islanders, leading to a bloody civil war.

Most of the story relates to events that occurred on the island during that civil war, when Matilda was in her early teens. The narrative style is deceptively simple. I began reading thinking this would be a straight-forward ‘rites of passage’ novel. In a way it is, but it is far more, too.

The onset of the civil war has resulted in the closure of the school in the village where Matilda lives. To the rescue comes an unlikely teacher. Pop Eye, the only white on the island, a man who sometimes wears a red clown’s nose and pulls Mrs Pop Eye along in a cart, steps into the breach. Pop Eye (aka Mr Watts) reads a chapter a day from Great Expectations to the kids, and it is this that not only helps them cope with the casually described hardships (and worse!) of living through the island’s blockade but also opens up their imaginations.

So far, so what? you might think. On a superficial level, this is another novel about an inspirational teacher and the power of books – in this case Great Expectations – to change lives. But the themes and ideas in this book reach much wider than most. On top of that, this is great storytelling. I was hooked. I read this book in two sittings and enjoyed every moment. There is suspense, there is pathos, there is horror, there is excitement – in fact, there is just so much to savour in this book.

There are two pieces of prior knowledge that would probably add to your enjoyment of this novel. The first is at least a passing acquaintance with Dickens’ greatest novel, Great Expectations. The second is an understanding of the civil war that pitched the rebel islanders (the ‘rambos’ of the book) against the government forces of Papua New Guinea (the ‘redskins’). However, neither is essential as the writing is just so damn good!

As soon as I finished it I had to find out more about Mr Jones, so I went onto the internet and only then discovered that earlier this year he had won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Mr Pip. And deservedly so.

Thoroughly recommended.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Oh Well . . .

The Secretary has read the rewrite of The Belfast Boy and delivered her verdict.

She likes it better now, she says. The plot moves along nicely. She really likes the characters.

But the ending sucks. I have tried to follow Wilkie Collins’ advice (‘Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait’) and left so much to be resolved in the last couple of chapters that it is, apparently, overwhelming.

She’s right, of course (she always is).

So it’s back to the laptop on Monday morning . . .

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Stormy Weather!

Having survived an earthquake here in East Kent earlier this year, last night I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of the biggest electrical storms we’ve ever seen in these parts. Two inches of rain fell on us in a matter of hours and the road outside my house was like a river. In Sandwich, the cattle market and Moat Sole were under water. We lost our electricity supply early in the evening, and it didn’t come back on until this afternoon. Despite that (or maybe because of it) I managed to get a lot of work done today (no email or other distractions!) and I finished the rewrite of my novel The Belfast Boy. All I have to do now is transfer my manuscript notes onto my PC!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Positive Feedback

The editorial staff at WW sent me a very nice letter they had received from a reader about my story, The Stain (see below). It’s not often I get such lovely feedback:

Dear WW

I had to write to tell you how much I enjoyed the short story "The Stain" by Paul Curd. It was gripping and unusual and I hope we hear from him again.

In spite of intending to contact you many times this is the first time in 20 years that I have written -that's how much this story impressed me!

Thank you very much. I.S.

Thank you IS!

Monday, 4 June 2007

Top Tips for Writers!

Believe it or not, I've been interviewed for an article in a specialist writing magazine. During the interview, I was asked for my top tips for writers. That's a tough one, because all the really good tips have already been taken. Everyone knows what they are, even if they don't actually put them into practice themselves.

I realised I learned the most important thing about writing from training to run marathons. I had to adopt a very disciplined approach to my running, and I realised at once the incredible similarities between becoming a successful runner and becoming a successful writer.

So these are the top running tips that I translated into my writing practice:
  1. Run every day, whatever the weather.
  2. Set yourself goals and targets.
  3. Keep a training log or journal.
  4. Run lots of shorter races before you attempt the marathon.
  5. Study the way successful athletes tackle the race.
  6. Join a running club.
I’ll leave it to you to do your own translation!