Welcome to my blog

Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The first five pages

Apologies for infrequent posting throughout October. LitPig is in a huff as I've been unavailable to assist with the blog (trotters and keyboards don't mix). The excuse ... my goal was to submit my children's novel (for 9+) to The Chicken House /Times children's novel competition and all entries had to be in for last post on 26 October. The book was written, but I wanted to re-write sections, add sub-plots and basically re-edit the entire manuscript in time to submit (unusually this competition asks for the whole manuscript up front). So I shut myself away and got on with it. It did help that we were having the downstairs decorated at the same time, which meant I was trapped at home for almost two weeks. And I could be at my desk for 8.30am each morning, when normally I complete household chores, voluntary work, or some healthy activity (gym, swim or run) before lunch and then settle down to write in the afternoon. So these longer days really helped my productivity.

What also helped was this book: The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman (Oxford University Press). Marketed as "A writer's guide to staying out of the rejection pile". My lovely new Swanwick friend, Heather Allison, had raved about this book and how it had helped her enormously with her novel. It arrived just as I started my re-writes and I read it as quickly as I could. The premise is simple: literary agents and publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a month and are looking for a reason to reject. After reviewing over ten thousand manuscripts Lukeman came to recognise that most writers make exactly the same mistakes and he's gathered these together in the chapters of the book. He promotes polishing your book until it glimmers and don't give them a reason, any reason, to reject. As always much of this book is common sense, but somehow we all need this information rammed home (well I do) and each chapter has plenty of examples to hammer home Lukeman's points. The examples and exercises make this book stand out, as it was through both of these that I really understood the concepts of each chapter.

The book is divided into 3 sections: preliminary problems, dialogue and the bigger picture. The immediate challenge is for a writer to present the first five pages that will hook in an agent/publisher/reader and keep them reading. Any common errors or problems in these first five pages will guarantee your precious manuscript a place in the slush pile. I found the 5 chapters making up the Preliminary Problems to be the most enlightening. I have an addiction to adverbs (phew I've said it) and  once I have a first draft I then carefully edit to remove all of these beloved darlings. I also love imagery, which when writing from the POV of a 12 year-old-boy needs constant supervision, and the delete key again. After reading the chapter on "Adjective and Adverbs" I finally saw the light and not only killed my darlings, I slashed and obliterated them too.

The section on dialogue was more of a reminder, but still incredibly useful. And again all the points were carefully illustrated by worked through examples. The final section on The Bigger Picture delved into topics such as: hooks, subtlety and tone. Lukeman points out that these areas are relevant to the whole manuscript and will only be truly assessed by agents/publishers if they want to see the whole work. Again, getting them past the first five pages is critical otherwise they never get that opportunity to assess the subtlety of your prose.

Whether you are still working on your first draft or ready to submit your manuscript then I'd recommend reading this book. In fact I keep it close to hand now - to dip into when I need a reminder on what I'm trying to achieve. There's a yellow sticky on the Adverbs and Adjectives chapter as my addiction is only in remission and I'm likely to reoffend.

And yes I hit the deadline and submitted my novel on time. Whatever happens in the competition I'm  pleased with the novel. The end result is I am now more confident about my writing and my ability to deliver a quality product. Thank you Noah Lukeman.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A new competition on the block

West Sussex Writers have launched their new National Competition, details below. Sadly, the Indoor Writer can't enter this one as she's currently Secretary for the group and part of the initial reading committee for all entries ...

West Sussex Writers launches national short story competition

Final judge: Simon Brett

One of the UK's largest and oldest writing groups, West Sussex Writers, is pleased to announce the launch of its first national short story competition.

With an open theme, generous word count and well-respected final judge – crime and comedy author Simon Brett – West Sussex Writers hopes to attract the cream of the UK's short story writers.

Chair of West Sussex Writers, Sarah Palmer, said `We're very excited to be running this, our first national short story competition. We hope to see entries from across all genres, and from beginners to more experienced writers.'

Maximum word count: 3000
Theme: Open
Closing Date: 31st March 2013
Prizes:  1st prize £200; 2nd prize £75; 3rd prize £50
Final judge: Simon Brett

West Sussex Writers was established in 1937 with the aim of encouraging writers of all genres and abilities. With a current membership of over 80, the group meets on the second Thursday of each month at Inclusive Arts, Heene Gallery, Heene RoadWorthingWest Sussex.

Full details, as well as further information about our eclectic mix of speakers, workshops and events, are available on our website: www.westsussexwriters.co.uk

Monday, 15 October 2012

How sweet!

Thank you to sweet Patsy Collins who recently gave me this delicious looking award. I know you just want to lick the screen - go on - you know you do...

I now have to disclose some sweet facts about my eating habits, such hardship!

1. Cookies or cake?
Always cake over cookies as I'm not much of a biscuit fan, unless they're drowning in chocolate of course.

2. Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate for cake (and cookies) but vanilla for ice cream and shakes. In fact why not combine the two: choconilla...

3. What is your favourite sweet treat?
Too many to pick, but probably chocolate fudge cake with hot fudge sauce and of course a side helping of vanilla ice cream. Yum.

4. When do you crave sweet things most?
At the end of a long day of writing and when drinking white wine (or red wine, or rose wine, or any alcohol for that matter).

5. If you had a sweet nickname what would it be?
Hmm I think LitPig's nickname for me is rather sweet: the Indoor Writer. Handsome hubby has always called me Frogface, but not sure that's terribly sweet.

I'm now passing on the cupcake torch to these sweet bloggers: Penelope, Kate and Yellow Jo.

If you'd like to accept, just answer the questions on your blog and then pass it on to up to a baker's dozen more sweet people.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A new Friend

The Indoor Writer has recently been a bit down in the dumps, with little news on the submission front, and spends far too much time listening to that Doubtful Demon. So today's good news has really cheered her up and I can already see the Positive Thinking Angel unfurling her wings. Two years ago she submitted her first ever Womag story to The People's Friend. After 2-3 days the self-addressed envelope returned bearing bad news (as they always do). She gave up on that market for a while but this summer had a short story that another Womag writer suggested was right for TPF. The writer recommended a few tweaks to names and marriage status before sending it off. The Indoor Writer followed the advice and submitted, but wasn't that hopeful of success thinking TPF was still a tough market for her to crack. Okay, I expect you've worked out the plot twist. Today she got an email from Shirley Blair, Fiction Editor for TPF, and the story has been accepted. Shirley had even taken note that this was only the second story from our, now singing and dancing, writer.

She now asks if after selling two stories to the Women's magazine market can she legitimately call herself a Womag writer? Or does it take more to join the club?

Not sure about when the story comes out but will let you know...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


Do you keep a writers' notebook to jot down those nuggets that erupt  at the oddest of times? I keep such a notebook in my bag and take it everywhere with me. I used to carry a dictaphone, but found I was too embarrassed to ever use it (you can get some strange looks). So a traditional notebook is ideal to record my lightbulb moments, but which one to pick? As you can see from the photo (left) I have an addiction - I love notebooks! There is some logic to the organisation of these tools:
one is for on-the-hoof-ideas, another for recording competition details, one for padding out features/article ideas, one for recording books I've read and another for poetry / memorable quotations. A prized notebook is a traditional moleskin, which I won for a letter printed in Writers' Forum. And the latest addition is this one on the right. I just loved the cover, a perfect notebook for a hopeful writer.

This latest fix was purchased specifically for a new project started on 1st October. Recently I kept stumbling across references to 'Morning Pages' a technique for writing a 'stream of conciousness' every day. First I read about this here on Simon Whaley's blog and then it was mentioned in Paula Williams' monthly Writers' Forum column (The Writers' Idea Store) for the October issue. And a writer friend, Heather Allison, also recommended the technique to me. Basically the idea is to write three pages as soon as you wake in the morning - don't think or plan, just write. I understand this technique is detailed in Julia Cameron's book 'The Artist's Way', but I have to admit to not yet reading this. Well three days into this initiative and I'm hooked. I've strictly stuck to three pages but could write more and so far the words have just flowed. Mainly I'm writing about plans for the day and how the previous day panned out. I've also been writing down any plot problems I'm wrestling with about or issues I need to think through and oddly as I start to commit them to paper solutions begin to pop up. Don't know if you are supposed to read back over the week's pages and not sure I want to, because I'm also recording all those nagging insecurities (the Doubtful Demon wakes early).

What do you record in your notebook? Do you keep more than one? Go on, confess now, are you a notebook addict?