BBC Radio 4 : Any Questions

Birmingham Literature Festival 2018 is currently underway and one of the first events was an edition of the BBC Radio 4 political panel show, Any Questions. It was broadcast live from Birmingham Repertory Theatre last night (5th October) and repeated again today. I was in the audience for the show (if you listen carefully I’m sure you can pick out my particular clapping!) and, although I’m not a political animal, I thoroughly enjoyed it. BBC Radio 4 Any Questions

When we arrived, the theatre was surrounded by men in high-vis jackets clearing away the security cordons (fences and concrete bollards) that had been put in place for the Conservative Party Conference – the theatre is only a few paces from the International Convention Centre. We were reminded of the conference again by the ‘warm up’ lady, Midlands BBC political journalist Kathryn Stanczyszyn, who did a great job of recapping the week’s main political events and taking us through the clapping warm-up. We did polite clapping, middling clapping and extremely enthusiastic clapping.

On arrival the audience were asked to write down any questions they’d like to ask the panel. Ten questions were chosen and the questioners brought down to sit in the front row. Then the chair, Jonathan Dimbleby and the four members of the panel were brought on to the stage, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, President of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Saquib Bhatti, MP for Rutland and Melton Sir Alan Duncan and the SNP Health Spokesperson Philippa Whiford. With minutes to go before live broadcast, an audience member posed the warm-up question, “What is your favourite Abba track?” The panel’s answers were used as a sound check. We heard the 8 pm pips, the news headlines and then Jonathan Dimbleby was live on air introducing the panel.

Lively discussion followed on Brexit, Theresa May, austerity and the possibility of cyber rather than physical warfare. As opinions bounced from the panelists, the audience graduated through the three types of clapping and added shouts as well. The final question book-ended the warm-up question, “Theresa May came onto the conference platform to ‘Dancing Queen’. What song would you choose?”

Verdict on the evening: Very interesting and I was amazed at how calm the production team and panel were, given it was a live broadcast. I would’ve been a nervous wreck! If you get the chance, go along (it’s free!) or apply to host the show at a venue near you.

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Sustainable Societies Competition – Advance Notice

In 2019 the University of Southampton will be launching a writing competition based on the theme ‘Sustainable Societies’.

Why am I telling you this now, so far in advance? Because most of the competition categories involve longer forms of writing that take time to develop. Among the categories are:

  • Novel
  • Stage Play
  • Radio Drama/Comedy Series
  • Screenplay
  • Short Film
  • TV Series

All the competitions are free to enter and the prize pot for each category is expected to be £1000 distributed across the first, second and third prize winners.

All entries must, in some way, touch upon building a sustainable society with a positive angle. All genres are welcome. The competition website also says:

“The story doesn’t have to be about sustainability or climate change directly. A rom-com, for example, could be set in a society that replaces ownership with borrowing and the heroine goes to a clothes library to pick up a posh dress and borrow jewellery for her big date; or the hero in a crime drama could use a carbon credit card and hear the news in the background reporting on the wellbeing index instead of GDP; or the characters in a legal drama could live in a city where everyone has gardens on their roofs and generates energy from their own waste.”

So, there should be no problem writing in your preferred genre but including some mention of how the characters and society are living in a sustainable way.

If you’re looking for a new, long-term writing project, why not give this a go? Who knows where it might lead!

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Live Fiction

Have you ever tried reading aloud to an audience?

Picture by A.A. Abbott

Recently I took part in my first fiction evening. It was organised by thriller writer A. A. Abbott (aka Helen) and held at the Gunmakers’ Arms in Birmingham (worth a visit – it’s a lovely traditional pub). When Helen invited me to take part I was a bit dubious, talking to an audience is one thing but trying to hold their attention for several minutes while reading aloud is another. It’s far easier to build audience rapport when you can make constant eye contact, talk with your hands to make a point and ask rhetorical questions to get the audience thinking. Reading aloud means the audience has to concentrate all the time, if they tune out they lose the thread of the story – it’s essential to keep the audience with you. But I decided to give it a go – the worst that could happen would be seven minutes of boredom for the audience.

On the night Helen was a great compere, introducing us all with enthusiasm, live tweeting photos and making sure it all went smoothly. I chose one of my shorter stories (worried about holding audience interest!) that had been published in The Weekly News and also appears in A Coffee Break Story Collection. I practised it several times at home, getting the hang of looking up at the audience without losing my place. I think it went OK – nobody shuffled, people had their eyes on me when I glanced at the audience and there was clapping at the end. The other seven performers were terrific with great stories and some haiku too.

Would I do it again (if invited!) ? I think so but I’d choose a different kind of story. For me the stories that worked best on the night were those with a very strong central character going through an unusual event/experience and very few minor characters. It’s essential that the audience is immediately interested in the main protagonist and not distracted by other characters. Possibly that’s how all short stories should be written anyway.

If you’re going to be reading aloud in the near future take a look at these Tips for Reading Aloud which Julia Thorley kindly gave earlier this year.

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A Plastic Nightmare

This short story competition seems rather appropriate, given that the UK government are currently contemplating doubling the cost of a carrier bag from 5p to 10p.

The mags4Dorset 10th annual creative writing competition wants short stories up to 1,000 words on the theme: A Plastic Nightmare.plastic nightmare

First prize is £300 and second prize is £100. Entry is £5 and the closing date is 30th October 2018.

If over 100 short stories are received, mags4dorset will donate £100 to the registered charity, Surfers Against Sewage.

Don’t forget to read all the rules before you start writing. One rule which I’ve never seen in a competition before is ‘Do not use famous people’s names or brands’.

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CreateSpace and KDP Are Merging

I’ve posted previously about facility to publish paperbacks on Amazon KDP as well as Createspace and the pros and cons of each one. Now you no longer have to make that decision, Createspace and KDP are merging. Chris McMullen has written a very informative article on this. I’m re-blogging it here so that you have the full story. Thanks, Chris!

chrismcmullen

CREATESPACE MERGES WITH KDP

It’s a logical business decision.

The one significant change has to do with when royalty payments are made. See the section entitled Royalties towards the end of this article.

In 2008 I published my first book with CreateSpace, and in 2009 I published my first Kindle eBook.

When I was learning about publishing with Kindle, I asked myself the following question:

Why does Amazon use a different company for publishing eBooks than it does for publishing paperbacks?

It seemed like it would be convenient for authors and cost-effective for Amazon to have a single self-publishing service.

This is finally happening in 2018.

This is the way it should be, and should have been all along.

THIS IS GOOD FOR AUTHORS

It benefits authors for CreateSpace to merge with KDP.

  • It’s convenient to check royalty reports at a single location.
  • It’s convenient to have a single account…

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Why Write Historical Fiction?

Christine Hancock is my publishing ‘twin’. Her book, Bright Sword, was published by The Book Guild on the same day as The Promise: January 28th 2018. We write in different genres and have followed each other’s journey over the past six and half months. Christine has kindly agreed to guest on my blog today and explain something about historical fiction and why it’s got something for all writers and readers.

Why Write Historical Fiction?
When I started to write it seemed like the obvious thing to do. All my life I have read historical fiction. I don’t know why. To escape? To learn about the past? Perhaps I just thought the stories were better. I have enjoyed other genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Romance (when I was young.) Horses (when I was very young), but I always returned to Historical Fiction.Bright Sword by Christine Hancock
So, what actually is Historical Fiction? The Historical Novel Society defines it as:
To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).
For example, if you want to write a book set in the 1960s, it is historical if you were born after that period, or if you were alive at the time, living in rural England but are writing about life in the USA. If you want to write what happened to you, if you remember it, it is something else.
After that, anything is allowed, any period and any place. It can be of any genre: romance, detective, adventure, biographical. Psychological thriller? It also includes sub genres such as time slip, alternate history and fantasy.
Some people aren’t interested in the past. They say only the future is important. But if we recognise that what happens today has happened before – in one form or another, we can learn how to deal with it, or live through it. I suppose that applies more to straight history books, but why not learn and enjoy the experience at the same time?
There is so much in the news to worry us nowadays, people want to escape. This is where historical fiction comes in.
Why concern yourself with the details of Brexit, when you can stand beside King Harold and his warriors at Hastings, defending your country against the Normans? Probably not the best example!
Worried about Trump? Imagine trying to survive in the court of Henry VIII or in Rome under Emperor Nero.
Weather too hot? Acclimatise yourself beside the Nile in Ancient Egypt or cool down at a 17th century Frost Fair.
Fed up with queues to see a doctor? Discover the problems of avoiding the Black Death, or any illness or accident, at almost any time before our own.
If you just want good read, why chose historical fiction?
The basic plot of a romance is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl. How interesting it can be when the clothing are tight breeches and a beautiful silk gown and when the hero must fight for his lady’s honour with a sword. There is so much space for misunderstanding when your character has to wait for the post instead of texting from his iphone.
People say to me “But don’t you have to do a lot of research?” Yes, but it depends on what you are writing. If it is a novel about the life of someone famous, Ann Boleyn, to take an overused example, you need to know every single fact – get it wrong and someone will notice and tell you!
Christine HancockI’m sure writers of modern fiction have to do a lot of research: What car does my character drive? What clothes does she wear? What is the “in” drink to order? Then in a few years it is all out of date.
I write about the Anglo-Saxons in the mid tenth century. No need to work out which make of car they drove (a horse or they walked) what clothes they wore (tunic, long for women, shorter for men and cloak in cold weather) or which brand of ale or mead they drank. So long as I have the right king on the throne and avoid killing off a real-life character before their time, it’s fine.
Oh, and don’t have them eating roast potatoes with their dinner!
Never tried historical fiction? What do you enjoy reading? There’s sure to be something similar set in the past. You may never return to the present day.

Thank you, Christine. You’ve tempted me to give history a chance!
Christine Hancock lives in Rugby, Warwickshire and is a long term family historian and leader of her local history group. Byrhtnoth, the main protagonist in Bright Sword, is based on a real warrior who died in the 991 Battle of Maldon, made famous by the Anglo-Saxon poem of that name.
Bright Sword is available in bookshops and from all the main online retailers, including Amazon.
Read Christine’s blog or follow her on Twitter.

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Armistice 100 Days

Sunday November 11th 2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War 1. There will be many events to mark this important occasion and to thank those who lost their lives for us. These include 10,000 people marching past the Cenotaph in London (ballot applications to be part of the march close 12th August) and mass church bell ringing across the nation.

Poets are also playing their part in the 100 days leading up to the centenary of the Armistice. Every day a 100-word piece of writing, known as a centena, will be published by the Imperial War Museum. In each piece, the first three words are repeated at the end, as the conclusion. Each centena will focus on an individual who lived during the First World War and the impact the war had on that person. The aim is to look at people from every part of society. Katie Childs from the museum told the Sunday Times, “By releasing a centena each day, I hope that we are able to demonstrate the very different experiences of the First World War, and the impact it had on people and places long beyond the Armistice.”

The first centena was published on Sunday 5th August and was written by Angus Grundy from the perspective of Leopold Lojka. Lojka was driving the car carrying Archduke Franz Ferdinand when he was assassinated. Ferdinand’s murder led to the First World War. The second centena is by Therese Kieran and is about a Belgian embroider who spent the War in Ireland. I find today’s centena by Miranda Dickinson particularly moving. It’s about a bride married during her new husband’s 48 hour leave from the army. He returns to the front line and she goes to pose for a wedding photograph alone.

Follow the daily publication of the centenas on the First World War Centenary Website. You are also encouraged to write your own centena and share it on social media.

These pieces of writing are a fitting memorial to those who lived through such turbulent times and perhaps they’ll inspire some of us to get creative before November 11th 2018.

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