Friday, 20 January 2012

Coming to Manchester

This Monday I'll be hosting an evening with some of the most sensational writers and spoken word artists around at Three Minute Theatre in Manchester's legendary Afflecks. And it's free. If you're anywhere near, don't miss out! full details here

Monday, 16 January 2012

In Short: Write a Great Synopsis with Nicola Morgan

I've been hanging out at Nicola Morgan's excellent Help! I Need a Publisher blog like a dissolute Barfly at for two years now. Whilst I most definitely don't want a publisher (whether I need one or not may be another matter altogether, of course, but I am very happy without one), I do find it a fabulous place to meet people, share gossip, and learn from the ever-excellent Crabbit Old Bat, whose advice is always to the point and eminently wise. It is, therefore, an absolute delight to be part of the blog tour for her new and incredibly useful book Write a Great Synopsis - An Expert Guide. And an extra special announcement is that Nicola will be in Oxford tomorrow for a workshop in Blackwell's (details here).

Before I go any further I should explain that there is a fabulous competition going on alongside this. In Nicola's words:

"Win a synopsis critique and advice from the Crabbit Old Bat herself! Surrounding publication on January 20th of Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide, I will be visiting a number of blogs for a guest post, review or interview. If you’d like the chance of winning help with your synopsis, simply leave a relevant comment on any of the guest posts. (This could be a deep and meaningful comment or a plea to the gods of fortune to pick you!) One comment per post – but comment on each post if you wish. On February 15th, each blog host will send me the names of valid commenters and I will do a random selection, using a random number generator.
Prizes: 1st prize – a critique of your synopsis, at a mutually convenient time; plus a signed book of your choice, if available. 2nd prize – a critique of your synopsis. 3rd prize – a signed book of your choice, if available."

So, without further ado, I'll let the interview commence, and say a humungous thank you to Nicola for letting herself be subjected to questioning. I do hope my readers will go and visit the rest of the blogs on this fabulous tour. You'll find them appearing as they happen on the right hand side here. People who are new here, you probably want to avoid looking round carefully or you will be subjected to poetry, videos of poetry and highly iffy opinions about literature and publishing.

For details of how to buy this super book, click here or the cover below. Oh, and there's even a trailer vid at the end put together by Nicola's highly talented daughter. And finally, Nicola will be at Blackwell's tomorrow night!! Don't miss the chance to come along and give her chocolate!

Thank you very much Dan, for letting me come and talk about synopses, one of my favourite topics and not at all the nasty thing that most writers think!

1. So, the fantasy shoe...
I am brand averse. So, I’d never go shoe brand-hunting or choose/reject a shoe based on the name. My fantasy shoes are elegant, pointy toed, stiletto but not high, and a million times more comfortable than they look, because I’m no fool. They also stay firmly on my feet, because there’s nothing worse than them slipping off when I’m on the red carpet. (Well, you did say fantasy.)

2. Seriously, though. If Converse produced a Nicola Morgan special edition, what design would they have?
*checks internet to see what Converse shoes look like* Erm, I’d rather they didn’t. I remember you asking me once whether I was a Converse or something else (eh?) fan and I had to go and look them both up. Didn’t like either! Converse looks to me like an expensive way of dressing up a plimsoll.


3. I often joke that the main reason I decided to self-publish is so I don't have to write a synopsis, but I actually find them rather fun. Maybe it's because I went to a school where English lessons were frequently comprehension and precis. Why do you think the synopsis has such a mythology of dread around it, and what basic skills should writers be working on before they ever get to their own synopses to help them when they do?
I’m with you on the précis. I loved loved loved doing them. Why the dread? Because people mean several different things when they say “synopsis” and writers stress about which* one is being talked about and surmise that it’s all a flux-ridden mystery. It’s not. WAGS unpicks all that and more and removes all reason for fear. It even gives you a method and examples and answers to all the synopsis-related questions I’ve ever been asked. And it explains my patent Crappy Memory Tool. Skills? Verbal agility and a wide vocabulary but if you’re a good enough writer to write a good enough book, you’ve got those.

* And let me emphasise that in the book, as here, I make clear that the one I’m talking about is the one an agent or publisher wants before signing you.

4. My personal intuition is that most people who struggle with a synopsis do so because they don't know what their book is about...
I think they know too much about what their book is about and can’t see the clearing for the forest. They need to find the core and slash and burn the rest.

5. Honestly and, ahem, off the record, what percentage of agents read the synopsis before the manuscript and will go no further if it's awful?
I’m not doing percentages because I’d be making them up but from my enquiries and my intuition, the vast majority read the letter, then the sample chapters and only then the synopsis, and they only read that if the first two items were good enough. But if they did read it before the sample chapters and if it revealed that this was completely not the sort of book the agent would handle, they would probably not read on. But this would be because the book was wrong, not the synopsis. If the synopsis also revealed awful writing ability, they wouldn’t go on but I believe they’d have known that from the covering letter and would never get to the synopsis or the sample. The synopsis is the least important part of the submission, but it does have a function and it’s that function you need to consider..

6. Suppose the first three chapters are great. How likely is a poor synopsis to stop the agent asking for the rest of it, or have they already fired the e-mail off before they get there?
Unlikely. Only if (as above) the synopsis reveals that this is completely the wrong book for this agent. But they would most likely know that from the covering letter or sample. So, unlikely. And again, that’s unlikely to be the poor synopsis but the wrong book. Also, depends how “great” and how “poor”!

7.One of my pet peeves is the "How I sold a million by breaking all the rules" anecdote that every big name author seems to be able to drag out. Can you explain, without using the CAPS lock, why it is more important for writers to read a book like yours, digest it, then do what it says rather than trying to emulate this week's maverick du jour in being "original"?

Easy. I don’t need CAPS lock. I have three thoughts for you. First, it’s possible for someone to cross a motorway blindfolded and not be killed; that does not mean that crossing the motorway blindfolded is an advisable way to live a long life. Second, actually, you are perfectly welcome to ignore everything I say. Just read it first so that you know what you’re ignoring and why. Third, your idea of original could be off the agent’s nutter-scale.

8. If someone asked you how long it took to write a really good synopsis, would the chosen unit in which you responded be: 1. hours, 2. measures of whisky, 3. percentage increase in grey hair coverage, or 4. dairy milk bars?
Minutes. About twenty. Why would you need or want to spend more? You only need more if you’re messing around on Twitter.

9. Finally, and with huge thanks for being such a star, could you say, in summary points as it were, what the difference is between a synopsis and a plot outline?

I’d say read the book, tbh :) But, ok, in very brief: an outline a) is chronological b) is more comprehensive and therefore longer and c) includes such things as POV switches. A synopsis needn’t be chronological; it is shorter and more elegant. But it is still functional and let me leave you with that over-riding thought: a synopsis is not poetry but function. The function of the synopsis is to show its reader that you completed your story successfully and satisfyingly, in a way that suits the genre. It’s not a necessarily beautiful thing. But it can be.

Dan, thanks so much for hosting me! Happy synopsis-writing to all your readers.

Thank you, Nicola!
And here's the video!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Monsters (poem)

There are monsters on our streets.
I’ve seen their footprints,
Seen hints behind smoked glass,
Seen glints on paths
Like shards of broken condoms in the aftermath.

I’ve seen houses boarded,
Seen hoardings placarded with warnings,
And heard stories whispered on street corners.
I’ve seen the evidence they leave,
The detritus and the dross each morning,
The lonely and the lost,
The whores who count the cost in doorways
Scoring from the boys they babysat
Before their joy was drawn
Through the eye of a rich man’s needle.

There are monsters on these streets.
They roam in groups that loot and vandalise
And look their victims in the eyes
And spit their lies
About society
But the only thing that’s broken
Are the dreams they choked,
Flames of light put out like candles, trailing into smoke.
They took arteries of hope and opened them.
And watched a generation bleed out on the streets
And let its body rot like meat
And fester in the summer heat
While they discretely pocketed its cash
Planted stashes
And then called in the police.

There are monsters on these streets,
High priests of greed
In cashmere robes and tweed,
The seed of Adam Smith
Feeding myths of freedom
And the creed that the future of civilization’s in their gift.

There are monsters on these streets
But I will not be one of them.
When they see my hood
They may see an animal in me
But when I see their suit
I’ll see more than criminality.
I’ll see more than the brutality
Of narrow-mindedness
And I won’t be blinded by banalities
Like The Common Good and Shared Humanity.
There are only a billion individual histories
From the unreported to the unperturbed
From those distorted and disturbed by laziness
To those whose twisted thoughts we’d rather label craziness.
You see, the only monsters on these streets
Are those we choose to see.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Poetry Video - Her Body

When somoene with a public profile dies, the person often gets lost in the discussion of what their death means.

Her body
Was the canvas where you painted your myths
In come and similes and piss
The focal point of all your bliss
The only part of her you’ll ever miss

Her body
Will be a vanishing point in the desert
A line in the sands of time
Running through your hands
The silken strand
That drags your eyes
To the horizon
Where your future stands
The wandering caravan
That spans
The skeleton road to Samarkand

Her body
Will be a theme park for ideologues
Self-righteous pedagogues
Gender-political demagogues
Who hog the scene
Flogging anarchist zines
Filled with revolutionary schemes
And Utopian memes
While under the clogs of your flag burning screams
Her body slips into the soil unseen

Her body
Will be a garden planted with your fears
A bowl to catch your tears
A reminder of the years you spent
And those that went astray
The hours, minutes, days
You couldn’t bring yourself to say
Because you knew her body stayed
But not that she had slipped away

She is not the sum of all who went before
Her body’s not a metaphor
Her unkissed lips are not a funeral pyre
Her gaping wrists are not the mouths of liars
Her clitoris is not the primal fire
(the truth of it is infinitely higher)

Her body
Was woven from pieces of pain that no longer hurt
Has wounds that will not heal
Indignities she will not feel
Skin peels
Winds wheel
Limbs kneel
To hymns bashed out with soulless zeal
And dust steals back
The only proof that she was ever real

From the sandpit - a world of possibility

It's week one of my play experiment and I'm finding my feet. It all feels rather frivolous, but that's sort of the point, as I find my way around what I want to devote more energy to. I've been posting random things to my tumblr. One of the things I'm really enjoying is having a camera for the first time in 30 years or so - at the moment I'm photographing food a lot (maybe I'll write the recipe book I've always wanted to), and I'm doing a series of my most prized literary possessions - here's #2, My ARC of Murakami's 1Q84 from the lovely people at Blackwell's.

What I'm really looking forward to is taking pictures of this year's literary exploits, reporting Oxford's literary scene as it were.

Writing-wise, I've written my first short story for ages, but I still haven't decided what to do as my next big project. I'm tempted even at the thought of a really dark thriller - maybe my crime-loving juices are bubbling again. I'm also working on a one-man show that might be ready for next year, and a one-man exhibition for the autumn. But most of all I'm really enjoying focusing on spoken word, and trying to improve my performances and material for poetry readings and am delighted to have been asked to do a couple of longer sets - at FULLFAT next Monday, the 9th, in Brick Lane, then for Ferment Magazine on the 28th.

In that vein, I'm working really hard on my performance so I can put together some fun videos on YouTube - just the one so far, and it's not fabulous, but it's a start - I hope another tomorrow.

Most of all at the moment I'm enjoying putting this year's shows together. I've made a definite choice to do fewer shows this year but put them together even better - last year was fabulous, and I also learned a huge amount. I want to stick to 5 or 6 really top class shows I can give everything to (organising-wise - I'll accept almost any invitations to read). First up is The New Libertines at Manchester's legendary Afflecks on January 23rd. There's been an amazing response to this and I'm so excited. Later in the year the highlights so far are Not the Oxford Literary Festival in March, a Flash Slam in May, and The New Libertines back at Stoke Newington Literary Festival in June.

Most of all I'm having an amazing time, and am looking forward to working with and discovering even more new fabulous writers than ever before as well as many many of my dearest friends and closest colleagues from the past 3 years.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's Message

I left before Christmas with a poem I hoped would get people writing poetry in the New Year, and more generally getting engaged in the things they cared about through there writing. You can see the words to Alibi here.

I thought I'd start the New Year as I hope to go on, with a video. I hope you enjoy it. I'd obviously love if you shared (the YouTube page is here - if you have a YouTube channel let me know and I'll subscribe), and if you do, please encourage people to leave their own poems in the responses - I hope you'll do that here. If you do, I'll take it you're OK with me putting the poem/prose/penning of whatever kind on my playpit homepage here.

Anyway, here it is. And weighing in at 2 minutes 57 seconds it's a fair bet you'll hear it at a slam near you some time this year!